Sunday, April 29, 2012

Fed Head

The federal headship of Adam is a typology which finds its counter-effect in the grace of Jesus Christ. Adam's sin was imputed to the entire human race because of his representative role. Christ, as our Substitute,  paid the sin-debt of all of us who have saving faith. Romans 5: 12-21 and 1 Cor 15: 45 point to the parallel roles (albeit with entirely different outcomes) of Adam and Christ. Jesus provides the remedy for the disaster caused by Adam.

Romans 5: 12 asserts that sin entered the world through one man (Adam). He was the representative and the gatekeeper, and once he fell, sin, along with its consequences, came in. Adam's federal role is immediately obvious because, while Adam was not the first human to sin (Eve disobeyed God first), it was Adam's sin by which sin entered the world. And the first consequence is that death entered the world, not through the first sin (Eve's), but through the sin of Adam, the federal head of natural humanity. Verse 12 finishes with the phrase "...because all sinned--"(NASB), not would sin, not eventually started to sin, not sinned on an ongoing basis, although all these facts are true, but sinned--the aorist tense in the Greek is used, meaning that the verb refers to a specific point in time. It points to the time all humans sinned in Adam, when he sinned.

Verse 15 of Romans 5 states that the many (Adam's descendants) died because of Adam's transgression, which is another indication of the imputation of Adam's guilt. Verse 16 says judgment arose from the one transgression. Verse 17 says death reigned by the one transgression. Verse 18 says condemnation to all men was the result of the one transgression. The good news is believers are rescued from this condemnation in Christ. Finally, verse 18 says by the one man's disobedience, the many were made sinners, a clear and emphatic expression of the federal headship of Adam.

Throughout the passage Paul distinguishes between the sin of Adam and the obedience of Christ, having stated in verse 14 that Adam is a "type" of Christ. Since Adam was a sinner and Jesus was perfectly righteous, this typology refers to the imputation of Adam's demerits to his progeny and the imputation of Christ's meritorious righteousness to believers. It also refers to Adam's one sin causing judgment and calamity to all while Christ's atonement removes the many sins and rescues the saints from judgment.

Adam's sin brought death, but for believers, Christ's work on the cross brings eternal life.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

It's Human Nature -- Part II

The Bible expresses the total depravity, or total spiritual helplessness of the natural human condition in a number of ways.  Ephesians 2: 1 and Colossians 2: 13 describe our pre-conversion state as spiritually "dead". Dead is pretty helpless. Romans 8 makes a number of statements about the unredeemed, or those who live "according to the flesh": verse 6 echoes Eph 2:1 and Col 2:13: "For to be carnally minded is death;" and verse 7 points out that the mind set on the flesh is hostile to God. Not ambivalent, not curious, not seeking, not hostile to God some of the time, but hostile to God period. It also points out that this hostile mind 1)does not, and 2) cannot subject itself to God's law.

 So all bases in the depravity spectrum are covered: the unbeliever does not serve God, does not want to serve God, and cannot serve God. In case you're still wondering, verse 8 adds that those in the flesh cannot please God. It's a matter of both volition and capacity. Earlier, in Romans 3: 9-18 a very complete description of the unregenerate sinner's condition is provided. The conclusion in verse 18 says, "There is no fear of God before their eyes." Not insufficient or intermittent fear of God. No fear of God. Because to fear God would please God and they cannot (Rom 8: 6) please God.

The good news is that God, in His mercy and grace, gives life and salvation through faith (Ephesians 2: 5-9) to those who believe. Those who don't believe remain in a helpless spiritual state.


Monday, April 23, 2012

It's Human Nature -- Part I

An undertanding of the nature of humanity requires an understanding of what happened as a result of Adam's sin. There are a number of views on this. Some understand correctly that Adam's first offense resulted in the total depravity of the human race, a doctrinal term alternately understood as the total inability or total helplessness, spiritually, of unredeemed humans. Another way to view it is that the unregenerate are spritually dead (Ephesians 2: 1). They are unable to respond to the gospel message and to receive God's grace and forgiveness unless God's grace acts upon them to enable their response.

At the other extreme is the view that Adam's sin had no effect in the essential nature of his progeny. Those who hold this view believe each human is born without a sin nature and is capable of perfect obedience to God, but that while it is hypothetically possible for someone to live a sinless life, no one does because of the bad example set by Adam and other human ancestors, and because of the environment of sin established by the population. Adherents of this view believe that even after a person has fallen into sin they are capable of repentance without God's assistance and are able, in their own fortititude, to begin to obey God's commands and set themselves right. A variation of this view holds that a few people, though not many, have actually lived a perfectly sinless life.

A third general category sort of splits the difference. They believe humans have a sin nature, but the idea of total depravity bothers them, as does the idea that mortals cannot respond to the gospel message unless God first does a gracious work in their heart to facilitate the response. These view Adam's descendants as damaged goods, but not spiritually helpless. They hold that humankind retains a spark of goodness sufficient at some level to allow one to understand spiritual truth and respond to God. In this view humans are, like the hero in Princess Bride, "mostly dead", but not "all dead" (spiritually).

Interestingly, the adherents of the second and third viewpoints have a similar logic concerning why they hold that individuals have the ability to repent and believe without irresistible or prevenient grace. Since people are commanded to repent and believe, the rationale is that therefore folks must have the ability to do so. Those who see mortals as a "scratch and dent" model rather than totally depraved understand the Bible says we are all sinners, but still want to leave enough wiggle room to insist it is entirely up to a person, apart from God's work in their heart, to respond to God's call to repentance and faith.

But they put themselves in a tough spot, logically, with their logic. Because once they admit that Adam's sin has impaired the moral nature of his descendants, even before those descendants are born, then they have already accepted a consequence of Adam's sin that was out of the control of those born later (except One), which caused them to be at a disadvantage in spiritual ability. Whether humans are severely hampered or completely helpless, either way a negative result has been assigned to them because of what Adam did before they were born. So objecting to the total depravity of Federal Headship or of Natural Headship with a  doctrinal anthropology of Partial Depravity in an  attempt to make salvation dependent on the will of man
doesn't seem any more defensible than accepting the imputation of Adam's guilt, yet they have a problem with the imputation of Adam's guilt.

But those who accept the doctrine of Total Depravity can explain that salvation is dependent on a holy and gracious God, not on sinful man.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Not a "No Comment" Guy

The third installment of Eric Hankins' four-part series (see my previous post below) is up at the SBC Today website. The comment box has been very active on that post and to Hankins' credit, he has been willing to engage extensively with commenters. He unequivocally rejects the doctrine that Adam's guilt was imputed to unredeemed humanity, but on the issue of the effect of Adam's sin on the nature of humanity, he is a little fuzzy. I have posed the following question to him in the post comments:
Just to clarify, do you believe Adam’s kids had in their essential nature (ontologically, not just because of his example or their environment) less capacity to obey God than Adam had, and that this was a consequence of his original disobedience?

He has taken a considerable amount of time responding to other comments, so at some point he may have to move on in terms of the comment thread on that particular post, but hopefully he will have time to answer on that thread or in the comments of the fourth installment of the series.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Roadblocks in the Detour

A series by Eric Hankins which appears in the SBC Today blog purports to resolve the Calvinism vs. Arminianism debate by proposing what Hankins insists is a kind of "third way" approach which eschews both sides of the disputation. Hankins claims his alternate route conforms more with Baptist tradition. The series is to consist of four installations and thus far two of the four have appeared in the blog. But in perhaps an apt display of the concept of foreknowledge the reader can see where Hankins is going since the posts are excerpted  from his paper in the Journal for Baptist Theology and Ministry entitled "Beyond Calvinism and Arminianism: Toward a Baptist Soteriology". And it looks like what is yet ahead in this series runs far afield of traditional Baptist thought.

Hankins begins by indicating he will challenge four presuppositions, as he terms them, of the Calvinism/Arminianism discussion. He is more accurately challenging four doctrines, and this is not entirely the same thing as four presuppositions. One may argue that all presuppositions are doctrines but not all doctrines are presuppositions.  In the case of the first two tenets he seeks to score, he simply takes the Arminian side but for perhaps different reasons than many other Arminians do. On the last two principles he unabashedly jumps the shark, adopting a position that not only most Calvinists, Arminians, and Baptists (whether Calvinistic, Arminian, or undecided) would likely disagree with, but probably also most evangelicals as well.

Hankins is certainly not the first to try the "none of the above" tactic in deliberating this or other doctrinal issues, or to claim to be assembling their own entree apart from the choices provided on the menu. Others, like Chuck Smith and Norman Geisler tried it previously, taking neither side at the outset of their polemic, then revealing an Arminian position, with perhaps a wrinkle here and there, as their refutation unfolded. Hankins' solution does not match theirs (indeed, theirs probably finds more orthodoxy than his, certainly on the last 2 points of his paper) but in the end he is still defending, with some interesting dramatic twists, the Arminian doctrines of volitional liberty (free will) and synergism. He borrows a couple of Pelagian notions that would not please Calvin or Arminius in denying the imputation of Adam's sin to all unredeemed humanity, and in denying the doctrine of Total Depravity or Total Inability stemming from the fall of Adam. He disputes the idea that Adam was designed to live in sinless moral perfection in the Garden of Eden or that Adam's fall was the inception of the general human need for grace and redemption. He thus maps out a semi-Pelagian course that would make many Arminians uncomfortable. But his general position still falls within their camp, if on the fringe of the Pelagian border.

A full understanding of the gospel requires an understanding of the sinner's helplessness and inability to respond to it apart from God's grace. On this Calvinists and Arminians agree. An understanding of the Fall, Original Sin, and the imputation of Adam's guilt to his progeny are also part of historic evangelical tradition and Baptist thought. Hankins' attempt to jettison these doctrines is indeed problematic.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Hard Proof

The Gospel accounts of events in the Garden of Gethsemane underscore the fact that what took place on the cross was a substitutionary sacrifice which was payment in full of the penalty for our sins. Those who attempt to argue that the cross was something different are refuted throughout the pages of Scripture, and in a particularly dramatic way by the narrative which describes the agony in the garden just prior to the arrest of Jesus. What happens there shatters any erroneous notion that would aim to deny substitutionary atonement.

If Jesus was only a martyr or an example in His crucifixion and nothing more, then the Garden of Gethsemane makes no sense. No amount of physical pain and torture that humanity could dole out to Him would cause Him to pray that "this cup pass from Me." Even though His human body would feel the pain as any human would feel it, this is not what caused Him to be "deeply grieved, to the point of death." This is not what made His sweat become like drops of blood. That dismay and distress has only one satisfactory explanation. And it is that on the cross, Jesus Christ suffered the Father's full and just wrath for the sins of those He came to save. He paid our sin-debt in full.

Jesus was fully aware of what the cross meant. The Garden of Gethsemane proves it.