And Never the Twain Shall Meet: The Irredeemable Qualities of Darren’s and Kevin’s Soteriological Reflections

Since Perry, of the presently de-energized, soon to be re-energized, Energies of the Trinity blog, has thoroughly responded to Kevin’s post, What to Do? (in the comments to Kevin’s post), and done so better than could I, it would be redundant to address Kevin’s reply in the sort of detail that has been my wont in previous encounters. First of all, Perry rightly shows the flaws of Kevin’s construal of nature, will and person, and does so with more terminological rigor than I can presently muster (I am, after all a philosopher more than I am a theologian). Furthermore, I have already addressed the Trinitarian concerns in Kevin’s post in my sidebar earlier in the week. And finally, Kevin ends up conceding most of the main points on which I base my argument, the principle of assumption, the assumption by Christ of a fallen nature (though there are some slight but significant differences on that), and so forth. But I will address Kevin’s final paragraph, for it is there that his schema falls apart.

Darren’s post, Jesus Christ and the Mark of Original Sin, construes human fallen nature (original sin) in ways that I think problematic, and so misconstrues some of my own assertions about human fallen nature. Darren’s primary intent is to preserve both inherited guilt, an inherently sinful human nature, the assumptive principle, and the human nature of Christ without original sin (but able to sin). Unfortunately, Darren wants to have it too many ways, and his own attempts at synthesizing these elements leads to inescapable aporia. Yet, as Darren says, “Please consider this development of my own thought to be a work in progress.” So hopefully our diablog will help him (and me, as well) in that process.

My primary reply to Darren is to reiterate my question: Where did Christ get such an unfallen, as-it-was-first-created nature? Is he saying that Mary’s nature was similarly unfallen? Or did the Holy Spirit somehow fashion for Christ a body that was human, but one he did not get from Mary? If Christ did not get his humanity and human body from Mary, if it was specially created for him by the Holy Spirit, then Mary is little more than a conduit through which Christ comes down from heaven and into life as a man. Of course this understanding is explicitly condemned by the historic Church. But if Christ did, indeed, take his humanity from Mary, and if Mary was fallen, then the only sort of human nature Christ could have received was a fallen one. Otherwise, Mary herself had to be unfallen to be able to give Jesus his unfallen humanity and body. Darren even goes so far as to admit that Christ did not inherit original sin (as inherited guilt). But how could this be? If Mary had original sin, how did Christ not have original sin, since he took his humanity and human body from Mary? And if he did not have original sin, though Mary did, then we are not healed of original sin (and our guilt), and even Darren concedes this assumptive principle.

If both Kevin and Darren concede the assumptive principle–that whatever Christ did not assume he did not heal–and if original sin (as inherited guilt) is part of the human nature that requires healing, then I cannot see how it is that Christ could not assume it and yet we are healed of it. We can leave aside my explication of fallenness (as mortality and corruption, death and a predisposition to sin) and focus exclusively on what Darren and Kevin contend. According to their conception, human beings are born damned, because all human beings have original sin and are thus guilty of Adam’s sin as well as recipients of its consequences. We can temporarily stipulate that the propensity (or, minimally, possibility) to sin was pre-fall and something God created in man. On the assumptive principle Jesus had to assume original sin/inherited guilt if humanity was to be healed of this original sin/inherited guilt. Yet this would make Jesus born under condemnation, which of course we must reject.

So we are stuck with a dilemma: either Jesus assumed original sin/inherited guilt or he did not. If he did, he is guilty (regardless of whether or not he committed his own sin) and condemned under Adam. He is sinful merely for having a human nature. But this is unacceptable. But if Jesus did not inherit original sin/inherited guilt, we are not healed of it. On these terms one must either reject original sin as inherited guilt or reject the assumptive principle.

Of course, Darren and Kevin both try to hold on to original sin as inherited guilt and the assumptive principle, so they are driven to an understanding of original sin as a “mere” forensic declaration that does not result in an ontological change in humanity. The only thing that changed, on this new view, is that all human beings were declared guilty on the basis of Adam’s sin. Kevin claims that Reformed theology distinguishes in salvation two inseparable components: “Salvation has two distinct yet inseperable components: 1) the healing of corruption and 2) forensic declaration of righteousness.” On this view, Christ assumes a human nature that was created mortal, and thus heals it, but needs not assume original sin, since this is merely a forensic reality.

But this only raises more problems than it solves. For if humans were created mortal one rightly asks what need there is for Christ to assume human nature. Human nature, on this argument, hasn’t really changed (Kevin’s assertion), it’s only been rendered forensically guilty and therefore damned. If the original intent for humanity was mortality, and if Adam’s original sin only caused a forensic change and not an ontological one, then logically the only remedy necessary is the change of a forensic declaration. Which then leads to the question: Why did Christ die? What is it about the forensic declaration that necessitates death? If the only thing that has happened is a forensic change, then only a forensic remedy is necessary. If Jesus lived a completely sinless life, then he can simply present his forensic blamelessness to God on our behalf and there is no need for his death.

Except of course if the forensic penalty demands death. But it’s not clear why death must be tied to the forensic penalty (and only the forensic penalty). If God’s infinite justice must be satisfied, clearly the God-man whose forensic righteousness must similarly be infinite, could have satisfied God’s forensic justice through that infinite righteousness. On Kevin’s view, there is still no necessary and logical tie between metaphysical and ontological death and forensic condemnation. A forensic declaration can be satisfied with another forensic declaration.

If we tie the necessity of Christ’s death here to the mortality of human beings, we have a manifest injustice. God is demanding punishment for a state which he apparently intended for humans. But not only do we have God condemning human beings for something he intended from the beginning, but we also have God intending Christ to pay for a penalty God imposed aside from and prior to any human choice or guilt. If we accept that the forensic declaration is predicated on (at least one) human choice, we at least have a punishment predicated on personal will and action. But to distinguish morality from forensic declaration, and to have the one imposed aside from and prior to human will and act and the other imposed on the basis of human will and act, and then to insist that Christ pay for both is nonsensical. We have Christ both dying on behalf of humans for something God willed as their original creation as well as bearing a forensic responsibility for which death is not a commensurate penalty.

No, Darren and Kevin, if they want to satisfy their commitment to the assumptive principle and their definition of original sin as original guilt, I cannot see how they have more than two options. Either Christ is born with original sin, and therefore, under their terms, born guilty and condemned, or he is born without original sin and is put to death for something that is not an inherently sinful state, when a forensic declaration would have been sufficient.

The other problem tied to this is that under Darren’s and Kevin’s rubrics, we are our natures. Perry, as referred to above, correctly diagnoses the falsity of this position and its inherent problems. This is problematic on Kevin’s view that all that is relevant here is the forensic declaration–for even though he claims that salvation is made up of two inseperable components, his proposed soteriology gives no basis for establishing the first–for we are not freed from our nature, even and especially if we are only forensically condemned. All justification accomplishes is that God works his will in us, in opposition to what we want, because we cannot even want justification and indeed are so naturally constituted as to always oppose God’s will. That is to say, we always act in accordance with our nature, and being a human one it is always and only naturally opposed to the divine nature.

More to the point, on Kevin’s construal, even if we are declared forensically righteous–on the basis of no faith we exercise but only on the predetermined will of God to give us the faith he requires–this effects no union between us and God. There can be no fellowship between natures of opposition, which must necessarily be the case between contingent nature (ours) and in se nature (God’s), and under Kevin’s construal our nature is irrelevant to our salvation anyway. But we are always and only the human nature we have been created to be, and can never in any way become the divine nature God always is. God might choose to make our natural immortal, but there is still no fellowship for all that. Our relationship to God is always and only a forensic standing.

Kevin closes his post with this:

It is predicated on ability and what can actually be done. The question is not, “Can man want to assist in his salvation?” but, “What can man do about it?” The magnitude of an offense is according to the majesty of the one offended. Even if, for the moment, we leave off the question of Adamic guilt, we are guilty of our own sins. We have offended an infinitely holy God. What could we possibly do to pay for this? Infinite offense demands infinite retribution. This can be settled in one of two ways: 1) In a short time upon the God-man, or 2) during an eternity in hell for everyone else. You want to work for your salvation? Fulfill option two first and then God might discuss it with you. On the other hand, when Christ has taken the full brunt of God’s wrath, there is nothing more to be done. Salvation has been accomplished on our behalf. It would be unjust for God to require anything else. If we keep in mind both the gravity of sin and the holiness of God, then the attempt to have something to do with our own salvation is not just the innocent activity of a child trying to “help” his parents. It is yet another offense against the character of God and the work of Christ. Can it be forgiven? Of course. But such forgiveness will result in sanctification. The non-repentance evidenced by continuing in synergistic activities can only indicate that regeneration and justification have never taken place. Synergism and monergism are contradictory modes of salvation. One of them is heretical.

Kevin asserts that our infinite offense of God can either be satisfied by God himself (in a short time) or by us (in an eternity of retribution). But this is fundamentally false. The infinite offense against the divine nature cannot be satisfied by endless retribution of a human nature, for the natures are absolutely and qualitatively dissimilar. Endless suffering of human nature can never satisfy infinite offense of divine nature, simply because human nature can never–under the Reformed rubric–be divine nature. And yet it is divine nature that is offended. The only way that endless retribution could satisfy infinite divine offense is if what must be satsified is a certainly quality attributable to the divine nature, say divine wrath. But here we still cannot talk of a satisfaction in kind. All that can be satisfied is anger. God’s wrath is palliated by endless human suffering. In fact, under the Reformed rubric, God is necessarily and absolutely simple, which means that God can have no parts. And that means that God’s wrath is not a detachable quality one can extrapolate from the divine nature, but is, in fact, the divine nature itself. And we are back again to the impossibility of a radically, absolutely and completely different human nature being able to satisfy the divine nature.

Under Darren’s and Kevin’s Reformed paradigms, then, human beings are forever cut off from God–even when saved–because they can never be partakes of a nature to which their own, even when regenerate, is opposed. At best the relation is a forensic one, but the gulf remains. In fact, on the Reformed’s own terms, the divine wrath, for offending which humans suffer endless retribution, can never be satisfied. We are caught with a soteriology that collapses in upon itself. For there can be no assumption by the divine of that which is constituted by original sin. And if the only remedy is a forensic one, the unbridgeable gulf between God and man, whether that of salvation or that of damnation, is insatiable.

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