Thursday, August 23, 2007

Did the Eternal Son Assume Fallen Human Nature? Some Reflections

The question of whether or not the eternal Son assumed a fallen or an un-fallen human nature is one that has long exercised theologians. Lately, thanks in no small part to Karl Barth, there is growing support for the position that the nature assumed was fallen. But, there has also been increased resistance to this idea. I recommend reading David Congdon’s paper proposal dealing with Barth and Oliver Crisp for a brief introduction to these matters.

What goaded me into writing this post was a recent post by Guy Davies over at Exiled Preacher. Therein, Guy reflects briefly on Barth on this matter and declares in favor of the ‘un-fallen human nature’ position. In the first comment on that post, I briefly indicated why this position may not in fact be correct. Guy’s response to that comment convinced me that a more complete treatment is needed.

The following is not by any means exhaustive. Nor does it deal explicitly with the work of Barth or others who have addressed this question. It is simply a collage of my own reflections on the theo-logic of salvation, on Scripture, and on the ‘un-fallen human nature’ position. I can only hope and pray that this will be a helpful exercise.

2 Corinthians 5.21[n1]

Now, to start at the beginning, 2 Corinthians 5.21 makes it clear that Jesus “knew no sin,” and it is a very important part of the theo-logic of redemption that we affirm that Jesus lived a sinless life. That is not up for debate here; I affirm Jesus’ sinless life. However, 2 Corinthians 5.21 goes on to say that God made Christ, who “knew no sin” to be “sin on our behalf.” So, despite the affirmation that Jesus lived a sinless life, he bore our sin. It could be argued that this making Christ to be “sin on our behalf” occurred at the incarnation, thus supporting those who argue for an assumption of fallen human nature. Others could argue that this occurs on the cross, thus maintaining the assumption of un-fallen human nature. Both are too reductionist precisely because the incarnation and the cross cannot be separated. They are mutually basic. You cannot have one without the other. The incarnation moves decisively toward the cross and the cross is the culmination of the incarnation (of course, the resurrection and ascension need to be added to this mix, but you get the idea).

We might be tempted at this point to make a distinction between the universal condition of fallen humanity, namely, the fact that we are all sinners, and unavoidably so, and the fact that we all commit sinful acts. The fallen condition would be addressed by the incarnation and particular sins by the cross. However, this is to move the above mistake one step further back. While we can make this distinction between sinful condition and actual sins, just as we can make a distinction between the incarnation and the cross, there are no actual sins apart from the sinful condition and no sinful condition apart from actual sins, just as there is no incarnation without the cross and no cross without the incarnation. These two are mutually basic as well, and ought not to be separated.

So, what we have at this point is the affirmation that Jesus “knew no sin” and that he was made to be “sin on our behalf.” In other words, Jesus committed no sin and yet bore our sins.

Romans 8.3[n2] and Philippians 2.7[n3]

These two passages are important in this discussion, and therefore I will address them as a sort of ground-clearing exercise. Guy Davies, in the second comment of the aforementioned thread, alludes to the language of these verses, noting that Jesus Christ was found to be in the likeness of a human person, but without sin. The implication is that “likeness” means that Jesus was the same as but also different from us. Romans 8 talks about God “sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh,” the implication being that this ‘sinful flesh’ is a reference to fallen human nature, and the idea of “likeness” being that he looked like us or appeared to be like us, but didn’t ultimately possess this sinful nature.

The problem with this that if you apply this meaning to the idea of “likeness” with consistency, you get in trouble with Philippians 2.7, which when speaking of the incarnation says that Jesus was “made in the likeness of men.” Now, if we say that “likeness” means here that the eternal Son only looked like or appeared to be human, we run headlong into the heresy of Docetism. So, “likeness” here must mean that the eternal Son was like we other human beings in every way. Indeed, kenotic Christologies based on Philippians 2 are devoted to trying to explain how this could be the case. So, how are we to reconcile this with the Romans passage? How are we to reconcile the fact that Jesus was completely human and also completely divine? And not just completely human, but found to be like we other human beings with reference to sinful flesh?

What is Not Assumed is Not Redeemed

What is the theo-logic of salvation? Gregory of Nazianzus got at the heart of it when he wrote that “What is not assumed is not redeemed.” The idea is that if we are to be saved, every facet of our existence has to be united with God so that God can overcome the sin that permeates our entire existence.[n4] This is what God does in the incarnation: the eternal Son takes our entire human existence upon himself and, through living a life of perfect obedience (this is the sinless life bit) to the Father, even to the point of total abandonment by the Father, reconciles humanity to God. Through Christ’s perfect obedience God both reveals how serious a problem sin is and destroys sin.

The question is: How can a fallen human nature be redeemed if it is not assumed? I personally do not think that there is a good answer for how this could be the case. Gregory of Nazianzus was right about this one, in my humble opinion. Of course, I’m not alone in this judgment. Apollinarius was condemned as a heretic on the basis of this principle: he argued that the eternal Son replaced the human mind in Jesus, but others were convinced that if this was so then the human mind could not have been redeemed, and we would still be in our sins.

How Could Jesus Have a Sinful Nature and yet Live a Sinless Life?

Not to sound dismissive, but ask God. One of the things that we learn from Christ is just how serious sin in, namely, that we are all implicated. We exist under a condition of sinfulness, and we commit sins; and because we commit sins, we exist under a condition of sinfulness. This is a cycle that humanity would be hopelessly locked inside, were it not for Christ. Ultimately, this is why it was necessary for God to become human. We human beings are incapable of rendering to God the obedience required of us, so God did it himself. This is the mystery of salvation.

Is it really so much harder to imagine this possibility than it is to imagine the incarnation itself?

Implications of the Sinless Human Nature Position

There seem to be some things lurking behind the scenes of the position that Christ assumed and un-fallen human nature. Here is some of what I see:

The Person and Work of Christ

Above I toyed with the idea of separating the incarnation from the cross, and the condition of sin under which we live and actual sins that we commit. There I affirmed that though we can distinguish between these two things, we cannot separate them because they are mutually basic. It seems to be that separating these things is precisely what the ‘un-fallen human nature’ position is up to. But, to do this is to separate Christ’s person (incarnation) from his work or benefits (cross). With the likes of Torrance[n5], Barth[n6], Calvin and Luther (to name but a few), I reject this idea. To separate Christ’s person from his works is to imply that the person was simply a means to the end of his works. Thus, Christ is viewed as acquiring some kind of merit (paying a debt, etc) that is applied / imputed to us. I think that the more responsible position is to keep Christ’s person and work together, affirming that we are saved by the person of Christ through his saving work, who redeemed the sinful condition of human existence by rendering the perfect obedience that we could not supply. Through being united to Christ, we partake in this redemption. Salvation has to do not with external legal relations, but with internal spiritual ones.

Bad Physiology

Also lying behind the ‘un-fallen human nature’ position is an antiquated notion of how it could be that actual sins translate into a universal condition of sinfulness. The patristics believed that inside every sperm cell resided a miniature but fully developed human being. This cell, when deposited into a woman’s womb, would grow until it was of a suitable size to survive external to the mother, and was born. The woman added nothing to the child, simply providing a place for it to safely grow. Sin, it was argued, is passed ‘genetically’ from father to child. This was thought to be the point of Jesus’ virgin birth, namely, that since no man was involved, no sin was involved.

Of course, today we know that this is ridiculous. The sperm cell must unite with the egg in order to form a zygote which develops on the basis of the combined DNA of mother and father. Genetically, mother and father have an equal role in the production of a child. You could push the above lunacy back a further step and simply claim that the ‘sin gene’ is carried by the sperm cell, but this is simply stupid.

Sinful Human Nature?

While most of us would recognize this point, it cuts deeply because our conception of a ‘sinful nature’, especially in the West, is subtlety linked with biology. That is why it seems to make sense to us to say that Jesus’ human nature was not sinful: there existed biologically at one time a human being (Adam) who had not yet sinned, Christ simply bypassed the biological development subsequent to that first sin (I will leave to the side questions of Genesis interpretation at this point). But, as I have pointed out above, this ‘biological’ or ‘genetic’ view of sinful human nature is absurd. We would do better to think in terms of a universal condition of sin that covers all aspects of human existence (N.B. that the technical definition of a 'nature', namely, that it is a catalog of properties shared by each member of a class, avoids the 'biological' conception and fits well with my notion of a universal condition of sin). In other words, we are trapped within a system defined by sin, and this means that sin is unavoidable for us. We are born as sinners (into this universal condition of sin) and we all commit actual sins.

The difference with Christ is his perfect obedience, not the fact that he was born outside of the universal condition of sin for, as we have seen, if that universal condition of sin is not assumed by Christ, it is not redeemed and we are still governed by it, even if our actual sins are taken care of by some merit obtained by Christ.
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[n1] - 2 Corinthians 5:20-21: Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.

[n2] - Romans 8:1-4: Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

[n3] - Philippians 2:1-11: Therefore if there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose. Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus EVERY KNEE WILL BOW, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

[n4] - Thomas F. Torrance, The Mediation of Christ, 39 - "Perhaps the most fundamental truth which we have to learn in the Christian Church, or rather relearn since we have suppressed it, is that the Incarnation was the coming of God to save us in the heart of our fallen and depraved humanity, where humanity is at its wickedest in its enmity and violence against the reconciling love of God. That is to say, the Incarnation is to be understood as the coming of God to take upon himself our fallen human nature, our actual human existence laden with sin and guilt, our humanity diseased in mind and soul in its estrangement or alienation from the Creator. This is a doctrine found everywhere in the first five centuries, expressed again and again in the terms that the whole man had to be assumed by Christ if the whole man was to be saved, that the unassumed is unhealed, or that what God has not taken up in Christ is not saved."

[n5] - Thomas F. Torrance, The Mediation of Christ, 63 - "Since in Jesus Christ God himself has come into our human being and united our human nature to his own, then atoning reconciliation takes place within the personal Being of the Mediator. In Jesus Christ the Creator Word and Son of God incarnate, his Person and his Work are one. What he does is not something separate from his personal Being and what he is in his own incarnate Person is the mighty Act of God’s love for our salvation. Christ and his Gospel belong ontologically and inseparably together, for that is what he is, he who brings, actualizes and embodies the Gospel of reconciliation between God and man and man and God in his own Person. In him the Incarnation and Atonement are one and inseparable..."

[n6] - cf. Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics IV/1, 122-128.

25 comments:

Aric Clark said...

Fascinating stuff here. I have to say that I've always regarded most attempts to keep Jesus free of "Fallen Human Nature" to be qausi-docetic. In fact, I'm not sure I think this is a completely useful category of thought because it tends to lead to what you pointed out are absurd biological assumptions and/or historicizing the Eden mythology. I don't think there was ever a human being that had a fundamentally different "nature" from our own, ie: unfallen. It seems to me that, though this is simplistic, the Christ event could essentially be described as the paradigmatic transition of humankind from living in sin to resurrected in glory.

Shane said...

Travis,

Thank you for a thorough, patient explication here. I bet you can guess already how I'm going to respond, but I think I'm understanding your position better.

Obviously this is an enormously complicated issue and it touches on several difficult dogmatic loci.

First, what is sin? What does it mean to affirm that everyone is fallen?

Second, how does redemption work? What does it mean for Christ to die 'for our sins'? Or, we could also ask a typical east/west question and talk about whether it is the incarnation, the crucifixion or the resurrection that "does the work" of redemption so to speak.

Third, what does it mean to speak of a "nature" in the sense that Christ has both a human one and a divine one? How do the two natures interact--united but not confused, etc. etc.?

I think you are absolutely right to point out that we have two overriding things to bear in mind here: First, that we don't take the 'likeness' passages in a docetic sense. Second that "What is not assume is not redeemed" is the axiom of the logic of redemption.

Now, here's the sketch as to how I would put all of these things together.

First, I would affirm your rejection of the augustinian understanding of the sexual transmission of original sin. I just don't think that's an option for us any more. I'll follow you in saying tha all we need to affirm about original sin is that everyone is born into a system of sin such that we all become sinners liable to divine punishment. I think we should not understand original sin to mean that everyone is born actually guilty of sin, but still 'fallen' in the sense of wounded, incomplete, not-as-God-intended and therefore in need of redemption.

Now what I understand you to be saying is that this is the human nature which Christ assumes--and he really assumes it in order to heal it. It is not that he assumes guilt--nobody is born guilty--but he assumes our frailty, our incompleteness, our suffering--our need for redemption.

However, at this point I think the question we really need to ask is: is our experience of human nature--i.e. suffering, incompleteness, need for redemption--really human nature as such? If it is, then i think we have to say that Christ assumed a human nature because there simply isn't any other kind. However I think we have a good dogmatic reason NOT to say that our experience is determinative for human nature as such--namely it would seem to call into question the goodness of creation.

You don't have to believe in a literal eden to want to affirm that God's purpose for human nature (or nature in general) is not what we experience it to be now. If we distinguish pain, suffering, neediness from human nature as such then I see no problem with affirming that Christ was like us in every way even if he didn't share in our 'fallenness'. The distinction i'm driving for is something like--he can take on the consequences of the fallenness without being fallen himself. Thus, I think we can affirm that Christ suffers--really suffers for us--even if he is unfallen because he 'assumes' suffering, he embraces it actively on our behalf; it isn't thrust upon him in the same way that it is thrust upon us.

Now what does that get us, dogmatically speaking? Well, i think it allows us to see Christ as 'true humanity' and humanity as God intends. He is not just sinless, but even unfallen. Looked at this way Christ's unfallenness is both a reminder of God's original good creation and an eschatological anticipation of redeemed humanity.

Just as God suffers impassibly, so does he assume our nature to redeem it unfallenly.

s

WTM said...

Shane,

Thanks for adding your insight, and you raise some good questions (as always). Please forgive me if I set aside the technical Christology questions for now, as that could get us going on a huge and complicated rabbit trail. Here are a just a couple quick points I want to make:

(1) As you note, I’m using ‘nature’ a really low-level way. A nature is a catalog of properties shared by each instance of a class. So, we have humans. Now, all humans are fallen, but the property of fallen-ness is not guilt or sin, per se, but existence in a world utterly permeated by sin. So, the property of human nature whereby human persons exist in this world is that property of fallen-ness.

(2) Christ existed in this world just as every other human being, his human nature was therefore fallen. However, he did not himself ‘fall’, as it were. That is, he never sinned as the rest of us inevitably do from at least the instant when we have capacity for self-reflective action.

(3) In terms of true humanity, we don’t need a historical Eden to have that notion. All we need is Christ, as you note. This is because, in my constellation, Christ was in his sinless-ness, despite existing under the condition of sin, God’s true covenant partner. That is (in the traditional language), without sin, but possessing a fallen human nature like the rest of us.

bobby grow said...

Well, as you have set the question of the historicity of Eden aside, I won't pursue that; except to say that I disagree with this tendency.

Nevertheless, I have a question . . . good article by the way: How does your thought relate to the concept of dues incarnandus? If the Logos is eternally incarnate, does this imply that He is eternally "fallen" with your distinctions in place?

WTM said...

I want to set aside questions of the historicity of Eden not because I wouldn't affirm it, but because I think that I can get the necessary dogmatic mileage from other places - just to clarify.

As for the logos incarnandus, it would indeed imply that the eternal Son, insofar as his existence moves toward incarnation, is eternally 'fallen'. But, remember, that my version of fallen-ness means simply existence within this world's sinful state of affairs - and not some sort of biological or materialistic taint.

This whole exercise is complicated by my desire to avoid loosing anything that Christianity has traditionally wanted to affirm while also moving beyond what may be unhelpful categories and ways of making those affirmations. That is to say, perhaps speaking of 'fallen human nature' in any sense is a liability.

bobby grow said...

Travis,

thank you. I wasn't necessarily prompted to make my little assertion on Eden by you, but by your other commenters . . . thank you for clarifying.

I also appreciate your candidness on the tension you see with the language of "fallness" . . . I see what you're getting at. I've always held to the "un-fallen" position, but I do see where docetism might hinder that view--although let me think and read more on this.

P.S. Once again a little off point:

but to say that Christ is moving toward incarnation in his being, seems to equivocate on the language of incarnation in the relative to the separate categories of "being" and "actualisation". I think this is my biggest hangup on the deus incarnandus.

WTM said...

Bobby,

I'm not following on the incarnandus point, especially where you mention 'being' and 'actualism'. If you could help me out by clarifying what you mean in that paragraph, I would appreciate it. :-)

bobby grow said...

Travis,

sorry about that. How can we say that Christ has been eternally ensarkos, if in fact this was only actualised in history? To say that Christ was moving toward incarnation seems different categorically than actually being incarnated with flesh, blood, and hair. Incarnation seems to be an historical "act".

Hope that clarifies.

WTM said...

Incarnandus indicates that the being of the eternal Son is, after the decision of election, never separated from the history of the incarnation, both ontologically and noetically. The historical aspect is still there, but the history is not separated from eternity and eternity is not separated from history. In other words, the logos incarnandus and the logos incarnatus are inseparable.

For our less technically informed friends, logos incarnandus = the eternal Son moving toward incarnation; the logos incarnatus = the eternal Son actually incarnate.

Halden said...

I guess then, Travis based on your distinction beween the logos incarnandus and the logos incarnatus that you don't follow Barth in his equation of God's act with God's being?

Great stuff on the fallen human nature of Christ.

bobby grow said...

Travis,

while in one sense they are inseparably related incarnandus vis a vis inarnantus, nevertheless they are distinct in the sense that one is an actualisation of the other which is the necessary presupposition. Is that a fair statement? Or maybe perichoresis or interpenetration would be a better way to view the inter-relationship between "dus" and "tus".

Nevertheless, thank you for the clarification, this is helpful.

WTM said...

Halden,

I'm with Barth on these matters. It should be remembered, however, that he never denied the existence of the logos asarkos, etc. God's being is inseparable from God's act, and God's act is inseparable from God's being.

Bobby,

For any act, you need a being capable of such an act. But, that doesn't deny a way of thinking of these things in terms of interpenetration, which I would be in favor of.

But, all of this has to do with the relation between space and time, concerning which I refer you all to my post, Human Freedom and the God-Time Relation

Jason Goroncy said...

Travis. A good post. You mention Barth and Torrance, but you may also want to traverse the notions espoused here (which I am in complete sympathy with) by reading John McLeod Campbell (especially his The Nature of the Atonement, in which, it seems, he further develops ideas gleaned from Edward Irving and Thomas Erskine, and which also find some expression in John Owen and Jonathan Edwards. Also, Thomas Weinandy is worth checking out on this question.

Timothy R. Butler said...

This is a really great examination of the topic, Travis! I can't say I have ever given the nature of Christ that much of a separate consideration from his actions (e.g. being without sin). Thanks for the thorough write up.

Halden said...

Travis, you are certainly a more informed student of Barth than I am, but from what I remember reading in II/2, it sure sounded like Barth denies the existance of a logos asarkos. It seems there that the man Jesus is the reality of the Son eternally.

So, where does this question place you vis a vis the McCormack-Molnar-Hector debate?

WTM said...

Barth never entirely denies the logos asarkos, which continues to function as something of a ‘limit concept’ for Barth as late as IV/1. Here is Barth on the matter during the opening pages of his doctrine of reconciliation (bold is mine):

“In this context we must not refer to the second ‘person’ of the Trinity as such, to the eternal Son or the eternal Word of God in abstracto, and therefore to the so-called logos asarkos. What is the point of a regress to Him as the supposed basis of the being and knowledge of all things?…The Second ‘person’ of the Godhead in Himself and as such is not God the Reconciler. In Himself and as such He is not revealed to us. In Himself and as such He is not Deus pro nobis, either ontologically or epistemologically. He is the content of a necessary and important concept in Trinitarian doctrine when we have to understand the revelation and dealings of God in light of their free basis in the inner being and essence of God. But since we are now concerned with the revelation and dealings of God, and particularly with the atonement, with the person and work of the Mediator, it is pointless, as it is impermissible, to return to the inner being and essence of God and especially to the second person of the Trinity as such, in such a way that we ascribe to this person another form than that which God Himself Has given in willing to reveal Himself and to act outwards.” (CD IV/1, 52)

As to your question about the current debate within Barthian circles, I’m afraid I’m not drunk enough to venture an opinion in such a public forum. :-)

Exiled Preacher said...

Interesting post, WTM. I won't respond at length right now. But see here for an earlier post where I discuss Christ's sinless, but very real humanity:

http://exiledpreacher.blogspot.com/2005/12/virgin-birth-of-christ.html

Shane said...

If the son assumes a fallen human nature, what's the significance of the virgin birth? Augustine's doctrine of original sin through sexual generation makes a lot of sense of why you would need a virgin birth. Neither of us buy that line, so I think the problem for us is to say why Jesus had to be born of a virgin.

just a thought.

BAL said...

Travis,
I found this a very intriguing post on a topic I had not really seriously contemplated. Many of your arguments are very persuasive, but there is one thing that seems to me to be a rather large whole in your argument. In fact, it may just be something I'm not correctly understanding.

You affirm that Jesus lived a sinless life, but that he assumed the universal condition of fallen humanity — our sinful nature. However, you also state the following:

"We might be tempted at this point to make a distinction between the universal condition of fallen humanity, namely, the fact that we are all sinners, and unavoidably so, and the fact that we all commit sinful acts. ... While we can make this distinction between sinful condition and actual sins, just as we can make a distinction between the incarnation and the cross, there are no actual sins apart from the sinful condition and no sinful condition apart from actual sins ... These two are mutually basic as well, and ought not to be separated."

In other words, that the sinful condition and actual sins should not be separated from one another, but this is what you are doing for Jesus. You separate the sinful condition in which you state he assumes from his living a life free from committing actual sins. In my mind this means you are either wrong to say that the sin nature and sin acts are mutually basic or you are wrong to say that Jesus assumed the sinful nature or you are wrong to say that Jesus lived a sinless life. (Since the latter is heresy, that actually only leaves the first two as viable options in my mind.)

To put it another way, if the sinful nature and sinful acts are "mutually basic", doesn't that necessitate Jesus sinning if he assumes a sinful nature? This doesn't seem to me to be asking the How? question which you've addressed. In my mind, if the two are mutually basic, then that's not even a question that can be asked since that possibility is excluded from the start.


So let me move on to some of my own brief reflections and burgeoning thoughts. You made the statement that "Christ existed in this world just as every other human being, his human nature was therefore fallen.", but Adam and Eve existed in this world in an unfallen state. (I'm leaving aside issues of literal accounts of Eden because the point still remains). Do you think it would be extending Paul's metaphor of Christ as the second Adam too far to say that he existed in a similar state to the pre-fallen Adam, and, as you have said, "the difference with Christ is his perfect obedience"? Or, to put it in Augustinian language, Jesus existed in a state where it was posse peccare while our fallenness means we exist in a state of non posse non peccare.

Shane's post also got me thinking about your statement that if fallen humanity is not assumed then it can't be redeemed based on the ancient statements of the Christian Fathers. This seems to go a step too far. Why not go a step farther and say that unless Brad was assumed in the incarnation Brad is not redeemed? Fallen human nature is not what needed to be redeemed, but human nature itself. The falleness of human nature is why it needed to be redeemed, but the what that needed to be redeemed was human nature. To put it slightly differently, our sinful nature is what we need redemption from, not what needs to be redeemed.


It may appear from this post that my mind has come to rest on the conclusion that Jesus assumed humanity, but not in a fallen state, a state where it is not possible not to sin. This is not the case, though I confess it is currently leaning more heavily in that direction. These really are just the beginnings of thoughts and questions, and I would love a fuller discussion of this topic if you have the time.

—Brad

WTM said...

Re: Shane and the Virgin Birth

Far be it from me to profess unbelief in the Virgin Birth. However, I sometimes wonder about its purpose, for the reasons that you have noted as well as for Christological reasons. What I have concluded is that the theological point of the Virgin Birth is not the Virgin Birth – the point is the involvement of the Holy Spirit from the very beginning of Jesus’ life (indeed, from its very conception!). Of course you know about this, Shane, but I would recommend other readers to David Congdon’s own ongoing exploration of the Virgin Birth.

Re: Brad

I’m going to break down your comment into two aspects: first, the suggestion that I am logically inconsistent; and second, the bit toward the end about the logic of salvation.

First, you wrote:

“To put it another way, if the sinful nature and sinful acts are "mutually basic", doesn't that necessitate Jesus sinning if he assumes a sinful nature? This doesn't seem to me to be asking the How? question which you've addressed. In my mind, if the two are mutually basic, then that's not even a question that can be asked since that possibility is excluded from the start.”

You miss the mark on this point for the same reason that you spin your own reflections in a way compatible with Augustine, namely, you are working with a conception of humanity that is up and running before thinking about Christ. Granted, this is how things work in our minds – we know human beings (we are each one!), then we hear about this Jesus fellow. But, the point of theology is (at least Christian theology in the Reformed and Barthian line that I am interested in) that we think about all other things in light of Christ.

So, Christ is definitive humanity. We know that we are sinners and that we exist under the inescapable condition of sinfulness because we saw in Jesus what sinless-ness and perfect covenant obedience looks like. Jesus didn’t sin, and because of that we know that we sin, and that we do so unavoidably.

Take that point, stick it with the logic of salvation that I discussed above, and you run into something that looks like a logical contradiction when you begin with human existence as we experience it and then talk about Jesus. The movement is going in the wrong direction. Our sinful acts and our existing under a condition of sin are mutually basic to our existence, but not to Jesus because one of those things is missing.

What I have done here is to recast ‘logic’ and ‘consistency’ a bit by switching starting points and by restricting myself to description and not explanation. As I said in my post, the answer to how it could be that Jesus lived under the same sinful conditions as we and yet did not sin is that it was a miracle. Of course, the miracle bit is the whole point.

But, if my application of the logic of salvation is incorrect as you have suggested, this is undermined. So, moving on…

Second, you wrote:

“Shane's post also got me thinking about your statement that if fallen humanity is not assumed then it can't be redeemed based on the ancient statements of the Christian Fathers. This seems to go a step too far. Why not go a step farther and say that unless Brad was assumed in the incarnation Brad is not redeemed?”

But you were assumed, and therefore you are redeemed! That is the whole point! When were you saved? 2000 years ago. Barth talked about this aspect in terms of an ‘ontological connection’ between Jesus and the rest of humanity. Torrance speaks of Jesus’ ‘vicarious humanity’ in many of the same ways. Our participation in Jesus Christ’s person and work simply IS salvation. There are right and wrong ways to flush out what “participation” means, but that is for another day.

Shane said...

Did you just say 'participation'? What are you, some sort of neo-platonist?! I kid, I kid.

I don't like the word 'participate' just because it has too many of those neo-platonic overtones. Not because I think neo-platonism is clearly false, but just because I'm not sure we want to talk about an individual participating in Christ the same way a blue object participates in blueness. . . at the very well least we need to cache out the specific notion of participation we're invoking here and distinguish it from other uses of the word in classical philosophy, for instance. But, as you say, that's a task for another time.

But I think your response has also raised another serious question for me: What does it really mean for Christ to 'assume' something? We're asking about the logic or the grammar of assumption or something and to be honest I really don't have any strong intuitions as to what exactly that means because there are simply no creaturely analogues to the Son's assumption of humanity.

An actor can assume a certain role to play--but this is obviously an inadequate understanding of the son's assumption since it would lead to docetism. An officer assumes command of a unit of troops, but there seems to be a real disanalogy here that I can't quite explicate. I don't know, I'll have to keep thinking about it.

BAL said...

First, thanks for clarifying what I thought was a logical inconsistency. When declaring the fallen sinful nature and sinful acts were mutually basic, you were not speaking of Jesus but of ourselves. (I was understanding "mutually basic" as the antithesis of "mutually exclusive", am I correct in this?)

Second, while I agree with you that "Our participation in Jesus Christ’s person and work simply IS salvation", I don't think you actually responded to what I was trying to say. (My fault for using a bad example) I may be drawing too fine of a distinction, but I'll repeat that humanity needed to be redeemed because it had fallen. Our fallen condition did not need to be rescued, we needed to be rescued from it. In fact to state otherwise seems to fall into the same trap that I did "working with a conception of humanity that is up and running before thinking about Christ." It seems like you are starting with our position of fallenness and imputing that on Christ's human nature. Is that not starting with our understanding of humanity?

WTM said...

Re: Shane and ‘Participation’

Yeah, I’m not a big fan of neo-platonism. Substitute communion / fellowship / koinonia for ‘participation’ and ally your fears. :-)

Re: Shane and ‘Assumption’

You are right about there being no creaturely analogues, which means that we have to look to the person and work of Jesus Christ himself (the reality) for what it means and describe that reality with our own language as best we can. Assumption means taking the places of, taking responsibility for, representing, taking up a condition, etc. Basically, it means adding to oneself that which belonged to another, in this case, the eternal Son of God becoming completely human and living a completely human life as such. ‘Assumption’ language is really trying to describe what happens in the entire history of Christ, incarnation through cross, resurrection, assumption and on, namely, the ‘great exchange’. It is sacrificial imagery.

Re: Brad

First, ‘mutually basic’ is not the antithesis of ‘mutually exclusive’. The antithesis of the latter is ‘mutually inclusive’. For two things to be mutually basic to something means that there is no prior notion or concept from which they can both be derived (the prior thing would be that which is basic).

Second, the logic is not that humanity needed to be redeemed because it had fallen but that humanity was redeemed and therefore realized that it has fallen and continues to fall every second of every day. You have to put Jesus at the center, which is why I’m not, as you put it, “starting with our position of fallenness and imputing that on Christ's human nature.” I get our fallen-ness from Christology, and not from reading the first few chapters of Genesis. The Genesis account is only properly understood in the lens of Jesus’ person and work.

Bare in mind that there are different orderings: the economic ordering (Scripture, history) and the essential ordering (the logic that I am working work, one might even say the eternal ordering). The former is a witness and servant to the latter.

BAL said...

Thank you for your patience with me as I have struggled to understand your thoughts and perspective. Now, not only do I think I have a better handle on your argument, but I see ways that my own theological framework needs to be challenged. I always assumed I had a very Christocentric view of humanity.

I did have one question, but feel free to ignore if it's too far off topic. You stated that "humanity was redeemed and therefore realized that it has fallen", and I wondered how this works out for those Old Testament saints? As humans, do we have some sort of instinctual insight into the eternal perspective that allowed them to recognize their sinfulness? Is there some sort of special revelation that reveals this before the Law? This really isn't central to what we're discussing, more an idle curiosity.

Luke said...

I was reading that post and I found that affirmation of yours: “Bare in mind that there are different orderings: the economic ordering (Scripture, history) and the essential ordering (the logic that I am working work, one might even say the eternal ordering). The former is a witness and servant to the latter”.

My question is: how do you know there are different orders? And what do you understand by “orders”?