Friday, March 23, 2012

Prelapsarian Anthropology: Some Thoughts

Man was created in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27). All are still images of God (Acts 17:28), though the image has been marred such that one must be conformed to the image of Christ (Romans 8:29). Therefore, what man lost by virtue of the Fall cannot be an essential aspect of the imago Dei. If it were, men would no longer be the image of God.

Gordon Clark thought the essential property of the image of God is the innate faculty to reason. Man is by nature able to reason, and though this ability too has been dimmed due to sin, unregenerates with sufficient experience to occasion its use are nevertheless able to construct and understand propositions and even valid, if unsound, arguments:

The image must be reason because God is truth, and fellowship with him-a most important purpose in creation-requires thinking and understanding. Without reason man would doubtless glorify God as do the stars, stones, and animals; but he could not enjoy him forever. Even if in God’s providence animals survive death and adorn the heavenly realm, they cannot have what the Scripture calls eternal life because eternal life consists in knowing the only true God, and knowledge is an exercise of the mind or reason. Without reason there can be no morality or righteousness. These too require thought. Lacking these, animals are neither righteous nor sinful. (link)

There are some who have argued that man’s image must be understood with respect to his given tasks as well as the capacities used to fulfill said tasks (Genesis 1:28; link). However, I think this doesn’t work for a few reasons. Firstly, seemingly even on that view it is the last Adam rather than men who fulfills the stipulations of the Adamic covenant (see here and here). That being the case, if the or an essential feature of the image of God were functional, men would not and seemingly could not any longer image God. Secondly, considering Vos’ argument in Biblical Theology (pgs. 22-23) to the effect that if man’s function were an essential element in his makeup, he would have already known it, the fact Adam received special revelation explaining his function mitigates against the notion that it was essential to humanity:

The provision of this new, higher prospect for man was an act of condescension and high favour. God was in no wise bound on the principle of justice to extend [the covenant of works] to man, and we mean this denial not merely in the general sense in which we affirm that God owes nothing to man, but in the very specific sense that there was nothing in the nature of man nor of his creation, which by manner of implication could entitle man to such a favour from God. Had the original state of man involved any title to it, then the knowledge concerning it would probably have been formed part of man’s original endowment. But this not being so, no innate knowledge of its possibility could be expected. Yet the nature of an intensified and concentrated probation required that man should be made acquainted with the fact of the probation and its terms. Hence the necessity of a Special Revelation providing for this.

Does this mean fulfilling the Adamic covenant would have been by grace? No, for Adam's obedience to the dominion mandate in Genesis 1:28 and precept in Genesis 2:17 would have been the grounds for his inheritance. The point is that Adam's merit would have been pactum rather than condign. This is dissimilar to the covenant of grace in which our "personal obedience" is no longer the grounds for meriting our inheritance:

Man had been created perfectly good in a moral sense. And yet there was a sense in which he could be raised to a still higher level of perfection. On the surface this seems to involve a contradiction. It will be removed by closely marking the aspect in regard to which the advance was contemplated. The advance was meant to be from unconfirmed to confirmed goodness and blessedness; to the confirmed state in which these possessions could no longer be lost, a state in which man could no longer sin, and hence could no longer become subject to the consequences of sin. Man's original state was a state of indefinite probation: he remained in possession of what he had, so long as he did not commit sin, but it was not a state in which the continuance of his religious and moral status could be guaranteed him. In order to assure this for him, he had to be subjected to an intensified, concentrated probation, in which, if he remained standing, the status of probation would be forever left behind. The provision of this new, higher prospect for man was an act of condescension and high favour. (Biblical Theology pg. 22)

Thus, contrary to certain arguments against a Reformed anthropology, while there may be some similarity to Pelagianism in respect to one's personal obedience being the ground of fulfilling the Adamic covenant and inheriting eternal life, because Pelagians do not believe Adam was concreated morally upright, to argue against Reformed anthropology by alleging a correspondence between the two is specious.

Given the doctrine of original righteousness – that the moral character of man’s nature was indeed “very good” – the nature of what would have been merited by Adam is an interesting question. Is the implication that if he had completed the dominion mandate, then Adam would have merited eternal or, as Vos put it, “confirmed” life? It would appear that way, as Adam already possessed life, albeit mutably. The mutability of this life and the correlative righteousness mean that these too cannot be regarded as necessary to be in the image of God (although they may be necessary for healthily being in the image of God).

Aside from man’s rational faculty, one final common suggestion as to what distinguishes man as in God’s image is his [alleged] possession of “free will,” by which I mean not only the ability to choose – for Reformed Protestants believe men possess volitions – but also the ability to choose in such a way that it was not externally determined. Some Reformed Protestants think Adam possessed free will prior to the Fall, but it seems to me that there are at least two reasons why this can’t be the case:

1. Adam was originally righteous, so he could not have chosen to eat the apple according to his concreated “nature.” An inference one could draw from this would be that a precondition for Adam’s eating of the apple was the passive reception of a corrupt nature by means of secondary causation, e.g. the temptation of the serpent. Satan’s own reception of a corrupt nature would have had to have been on the occasion of some good, created thing. It is a sufficient defense to note that if God created Satan and other rational creatures with a capacity to be tempted and sin, there does not appear to be any reason to suppose that He could not also have created said creatures with the necessity to sin, given certain circumstances.

2. God’s knowledge of what Adam would choose was predicated on Adam’s actualizing one of two possible choices, God is not eternally omniscient, from which serious consequences for Christianity would follow.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Eternal Generation and Timelessness

As I've recently been reading about the nature of time and the nature of the Trinity, I have found Paul Helm's work to be good reading. For instance, he notes in God and Time: Four Views (pg. 33):

...the affirmation of God's timeless eternity appears to be necessary in order to avoid difficulties in affirming the eternal begetting of the Son by the Father; for if God is in time then the begetting of the Son looks like an event in time.

If the begetting of the Son is not an event in time, it is atemporal or timeless. But if the begetting of the Son is an event in time, then it seems that there was some time prior to the generation of the Son in which he was not generated. More precisely, the Son is not necessarily pre-existent. This leads to some bizarre conclusions: for example, "fatherhood" would be an accidental and acquired rather than an essential property of the first person of the Trinity. In fact, it would seem that pre-existence would be a and the only property that would be essential to the first person of the Trinity on this view. This would amount to a sort of reverse Arianism. It at least underscores the problems of a notion of time which infinitely extends into the "past."

I say all this to note that if one accepts eternal generation (and even if he does not), he must either accept divine timelessness or reject a host of classical Christian doctrines like divine immutability, the pre-existence of the Son (seemingly), and especially eternal or intuitive omniscience.

Helm provides a positive formulation for understanding eternal generation in the context of divine timelessness at the end of Eternal God (pgs. 284-286):

...while it may be granted that ‘begotten’ has a meaning distinct from ‘created’, that meaning is not wholly distinct, in that both ‘create’ and ‘beget’ are causal notions. How can the Father beget the Son without adversely affecting the equal divinity of each and the divine unity of the pair? It would seem to follow from being begotten (however this is understood) that the Son cannot be equally divine with the Father, in that he cannot be autotheos.

Perhaps it is possible to address these questions in the following way. For an atemporalist the eternal begetting of the Son by the Father cannot express a temporal relation of any kind. The Son cannot come into being at some time after the Father, nor (of course) can he come into being at the same time as the Father...

The nature of the begetting must be something like the following, then: there is no state of the Father that is not a begetting of the Son, and no state of the Son which is not a being begotten by the Father and necessarily there is no time when the Father had not begotten the Son, and no time when the Son had not been begotten by the Father...

The residual problem is not, how can the Son be co-divine when there was a time when the Father was and the Son was not, but, how could the Son have a timeless relation of begottenness while being equally divine with the Father? Perhaps a solution to this may be found in expunging the language of subordination entirely from the account of the Trinity, in asserting the co-equality of the Father and the Son, not their equality in every respect, but their equality in respect of divinity. The puzzle (to me at least) is why a satisfactory Trinitarian doctrine may not rest with saying that God exists in three co-eternal and equally divine persons. Is the language of begottenness and procession not a reading back into the doctrine of the Trinity those roles which according to the New Testament each person of the Trinity adopts in order to ensure human salvation?

I am not quite sure what Helm means by "equally divine" or "equality in respect of divinity" in the last paragraph. I find it hard to believe the "solution" he means to offer is the rejection of the very doctrine of eternal generation which he defended throughout the chapter. So here's what I think he means:

In the first paragraph, he seems to think autotheosis is relevant to divine co-equality. He may be puzzled as to why eternal generation would preclude the idea that the Son can be autotheos, for which reason he suggests "expunging the language of subordination entirely from the account of the Trinity." His final question seems to imply that the Scriptural evidence for the eternal generation of the Son relies on analogy: we see the economic activity of the Trinity and use that as a lens for understanding the ontological Trinity. My best guess, then, would be that Helm is suggesting that this lens should not be used to read the language of subordination which may be found in the economic activity of the Trinity back into the relations between the persons of the ontological Trinity. Thus, the Son may be autotheos yet eternally begotten.

If this is an accurate rephrasing - and if it's not, the apparent alternatives puzzle me! - it doesn't strike me as satisfying Helm's own earlier question: how can the Son be autotheos if he has been "caused" by the Father?

Regardless, I think Helm does a good job of explaining how eternal generation can be consistent with a theological system which holds to divine timelessness.

Trinitarian Heresies: an observation

As I'm studying the nature of the Trinity, it seems that the explanations posed are often accused of slipping into extremism associated with oneness and threeness simultaneously.

For instance, a social understanding of the Trinity in which the persons are ["merely"] generically united is alleged by some to be tritheistic, yet a corresponding doctrine, the monarchy of the Father, is alleged to be unitarian.

On the other hand, those who claim a numeric unity among the persons of the Trinity is alleged by others to be modalistic, yet a corresponding doctrine, that each of the persons of the Trinity are autotheos, is alleged to be tritheistic.

It is odd at first glance, but I suppose it makes sense if you look at it from the perspective that opposing sides view each other's qualifications as over-corrections for already extant error.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Back to Biblical and Covenant Theology: the Mosaic Covenant

It's been a while since I've read biblical and covenant theology. It's hard for me to synthesize them with philosophical and systematic theology. J. V. Fesko has said that biblical theology is to building as systematic theology is to building inspector. That's the best way I can understand how they relate.

Anyways, a friend and I were discussing covenant theology recently, particularly whether or not the Mosaic covenant was an administration of the covenant of grace to individual Israelites and/or a typological republication of the covenant of works for corporate Israel. My friend thought that Galatians 4:24 was a direct reference to the covenant of works and that the reference to Mt. Sinai was to the eternal moral law of God (which always ought to be obeyed) rather than a synecdoche the Mosaic covenant, but I think I've convinced him that Galatians 3-4:20 sets the context for 4:21-31 to be understood as contrasting the Mosaic covenant with the covenant of grace. This would have interesting implications as to how we understand the purpose for which the Mosaic covenant was given. I was a little rusty while discussing this, so hopefully I can put some of my thoughts in order here.

The covenant of grace, while the same in essence throughout redemptive history, has been administered differently. As the Westminster Larger Catechism puts it:

Question 34: How was the covenant of grace administered under the Old Testament?

Answer: The covenant of grace was administered under the Old Testament, by promises, prophecies, sacrifices, circumcision, the passover, and other types and ordinances, which did all foresignify Christ then to come, and were for that time sufficient to build up the elect in faith in the promised Messiah, by whom they then had full remission of sin, and eternal salvation.

Question 35: How is the covenant of grace administered under the New Testament?

Answer: Under the New Testament, when Christ the substance was exhibited, the same covenant of grace was and still is to be administered in the preaching of the Word, and the administration of the sacraments of Baptism and the Lord's Supper; in which grace and salvation are held forth in more fulness, evidence, and efficacy, to all nations.

When the question is posed as to whether or not the Mosaic covenant falls under the rubric of the covenant of grace as administered in the Old Testament, in comparing the above exposition to Exodus 19:5-6, the answer appears to be negative. The purpose, rather, is to typologically revive the covenant of works.

Now, I have not committed myself to believing that the Mosaic covenant was a covenant merely superimposed onto the administrative history of the covenant of grace, for there are elements in it - especially the ritual laws which were fulfilled by Christ - which seem to indicate otherwise. But perhaps these only served to demonstrate that the covenant of grace was administered under the Mosaic covenant although not by it, since the Mosaic covenant was established upon but did not abrogate the Abrahamic.

If the essence of the Mosaic covenant is Exodus 19:5-6, then it would seem that the Mosaic covenant was with the nation of Israel rather than individual Israelites per se and typified the covenant of works, at least to the extent that such was possible for a collection of sinners. Adam, Israel, and Jesus are all uniquely connected to this covenant. Adam had Eden, Israel had the promised land of Canaan, and Christ has the promised land of new Eden. The former sons of God failed to meet the demands of the covenant of works, though there existence establishes a pattern which helps us to understand Christ's work. In the case of Israel especially, it was impossible for them to actually fulfill the covenant of works:

Even though they were not able to keep this law in the Pauline, spiritual sense, yea, even though they were unable to keep it externally and ritually, the requirement could not be lowered. When apostacy on a general scale took place, they could not remain in the promised land. When they disqualified themselves for typifying the state of holiness, they ipso facto disqualified themselves for typifying that of blessedness, and had to go into captivity. This did not mean that every individual Israelite, in every detail of his life, had to be perfect, and that on this was suspended the continuance of God's favor. Jehovah dealt primarily with the nation and through the nation with the individual, as even now in the covenant of grace He deals with believers and their children in the continuity of generations. - Geerhardus Vos, Biblical Theology pgs. 127-128

The point of "apostasy on a general scale" occurred when the nation as such acted in a sufficiently dissimilar manner to that which was necessary in order for there to be a recognizable connection to the obedience of one who actually rather than merely typologically attempted to fulfill of the covenant of works.

But strictly speaking, every Israelite was a sinner, so each broke this first covenant to which Paul refers in Galatians 4:24. So perhaps the Judaizers in Galatians 4 misunderstand the purpose of the Mosaic covenant by attempting to individualize its promises on the condition of general obedience. Or perhaps insofar as the Mosaic covenant typologically recapitulates the covenant of works, it would be more safe to say they understood its demands applied to themselves (which is true regarding the moral law) but misunderstood their own inability to meet its demands. In this case, they still misunderstood the purpose of the laws of the Mosaic covenant to be a means of salvation rather than a "tutor."

So I suppose all of this means I lean more toward a more Owenian (link) understanding of the Mosaic covenant, although Witsius' position could be arguable as well (cf. pgs. 35-39 here). Fesko's coming out with a new commentary on Galatians this month, so I'm looking forward to reading what more he has to say about this topic.