Transfer of guilt/righteousness is possible

One of the objections to the doctrine of the satisfaction of Christ is that the transfer of guilt (ours/Adam’s) and/or the transfer of righteousness (Christ’s) is morally and legally impossible.  Hodge answers:

“The transfer of guilt or righteousness, as states of consciousness or forms of moral character, is indeed impossible.  But the real transfer of guilt as a responsibility to justice, and as righteousness which satisfies that justice, is no more impossible than that one man should pay the debt of another.  All that the bible teaches on the subject is that Christ paid as a substitute our debt to the justice of God” (II: 540-541)

Epistemology, Trinitarian Distinctions, and the Divine Decree

(The Reformed structure this discussion) “Around the epistemological problem of the finitum no capax infiniti and its resolution in the explication of the eternal decree and its execution of the sovereign will of God in and for the temporal economy. Here we see both a statement of the non capax and an approach to the divine relatedness: the mind cannot conceive of the way in which the attributes belong to the utter simplicity of the divine essence; nonetheless, the distinct attributes are correctly distinguished by reason in the effects and operations of God in the world—and these effects and operations rightly and genuinely reveal the identity of God, indeed, the invisible essence of the utterly simple Godhead. The effect of this distinction, like the effect of the distinction between the decree and the execution, is to direct attention away from the divine essence toward the divine economy” (298).

Again, I am amazed at how the Reformed orthodox interweave epistemology, (Christology), trinitarian distinctions, and predestination in one fell move.  If we begin with the Creator-creature distinction, then we necessarily have the archetypal-ectypal distinction.  If we have the ectypal distinction, then we realize that we can never give adequate and full accounts of how their can be distinctions in the divine essence.  Yet God has not left us in the dark.   We can see distinctions in God’s operations toward us in the world.   These are the outworking of God’s decree.  Yet, if there is an outworking of the decree, it logically follows that there is a divine decree.

Christological issues of the Supper aside, this is the second most reason I am Reformed:  ectypal theology.  People will ask, “Yeah, but how do you know you are elect?”  If we begin with the understanding of ectypal theology, then we can begin to answer this question (though I doubt any answer I give will satisfy the interlocutor)..  I can not “know” in the sense of having ultimate, archetypal knowledge (and to seek such is sinful).  I can know, however, based on the understanding of God’s providence and execution of the decree (and issues of Christ, the Supper, Church discipline).  The problem is that the interlocutor has presuppositionally denied any predestination by God, so dialogue is fruitless.

This is also another reason why I read Orthodoxy so sympathetically, yet ultimately rejected it.  I liked the way they rejected the Romanist reading of absolute divine simplicity and seeking the knowledge of God in his operations and energies.  Yet problems remained. I couldn’t find a satisfactory account of foreknowledge and predestination that did not lead to open theism.  And even the energies was problematic:  while it is true we know God by his outworkings to us (emininter and virtualiter) in the ad extra, this is not exactly the same thing that the Eastern Orthodox were claiming.  They were claiming that we know God by the peri ton theon and the logoi around God.  It’s hard to see how this isn’t any less speculative than Thomas’s beatific vision.

Defending Hodge on the Supper

Keith Mathison’s book on Calvin’s view of the Supper is now something of a classic, and deservedly so.  I am in large agreement with most of the book.  I certainly lean towards Calvin.  That said, I think one of the unintended consequences of the book is a slighting of Charles Hodge among the “Young Turk Calvinists.”  It’s not that I disagree with Mathison or Calvin, but I am concerned about the new interest in Nevin.  I used to be a hard-core Hegelian for 3 years.   Nevin was also an Hegelian.   Granted, Nevin pulled back from the worst of Hegel.  I am not so sure Nevin’s modern interpreters fully understand that.  I hope to give something of a modified defense of Hodge on the Supper:

“really conveying to the believing recipient, Christ, and all the benefits of his redemption…There must be a sense, therefore, in which believers receive the body and blood of Christ” (III: 622).


Anything is said to be present when it operates duly on our perceiving senses” (637).  I am not so sure Hodge is able to dodge Mathison’s charge.  I agree with Hodge’s common sense realism, but I don’t think Hodge’s next point follows:  “In like manner Christ is present when he thus fills the mind, sheds abroad his love into our hearts…” (638).  I suppose the question at issue is this:  we grant that Christ fills the mind.   We grant that sensory operations also fill the mind, but it does not necessarily follow that Christ is present in the Supper in a sensory manner.   In some sense I think all Reformed would agree with that.

Hodge makes the common Reformed point that “what is affirmed to be present is not the body and blood of Christ absolutely, but his body as broken and his blood as shed” (641).  This is a decisive point against High Church traditions:  when they insist upon a literal reading, “This is my body,” the Reformed can point that Christ’s wasn’t sacrificed yet, so the “body” at issue can’t be the sacrificial body.

Hodge concludes his exposition of the Reformed teaching with “There is therefore a presence of Christ’s body in the Lord’s Supper; not local but spiritual; not to the senses, but to the mind and to faith; and not of nearness, but of efficacy” (643).  Incidentally, this blunts the charge made at Orthodox Bridge that the Reformed view is Platonic.  If anything it is Aristotelian in terms of causality (though in fact it is neither).

Reading notes on Muller’s PRRD, volume 3

I usually don’t take copious notes when I read books.  This book, though, is of importance.  Further, it is out of print (I will forgo the usual slams against Baker Academic at the moment) and I acquired it temporarily via ILL.  So anything I learn from the book has to last permanently. Hence, the notes.


Notes on Muller, PRRD 3

Simplicity in pre-Reformation

The scholastic understanding of “identity” assumes various levels of identity (essential and formal), so the term “identity” does not indicate radical equation in every sense posssible (40 n. 63).

The goal is “to argue a certain manner of distinction (for the sake of manifesting the three) while at the very same time denying other kinds of distinction (for the sake of confessing the one)” (41).

Normally speaking essence and existence are not identified. The essence “humanity” is not synonymous with any one human (52).

Simplicity and Predication

Many critique absolute divine simplicity as eliminating the possibility of any real predication (on our part) of the divine essence. But when medievals used this term, all they meant was that God is not composite (54-55)

Plurality in God is secundum rationem, not secundum re (55).

Development and Decline of late orthodoxy

Interestingly, the medievals viewed “space” and time,” not as things but as relations (148).

Existence and knowledge of God

The orthodox followed three ways of approach to the problem of the knowledge of God (166):

  1. via causationes (a cause can be known in some manner from its effects)
  2. via emimentiae(we attribute to God all the perfections known to creataures)
  3. via negationis (we remove from God the imperfections known to creatures)

Rules of predication

“Predication is the logical act of attribution by which a subject is united with a predicate” (197).

Disproportionality between finite and infinite.

Charles Hodge, free choice, and divine certainty

Charles Hodge’s key argument regarding the free will controversy is this:   does infallible certainty of a future event destroy human liberty?  He answers no.  Hodge gives a lengthy explanation that the Reformed tradition can maintain free agency, yet God’s foreknowledge of future actions is not threatened (Hodge, II: 296-304).  Part of his discussion is labored and a bit confusing, for he realizes that “free will” has as many glosses as it does adherents.  He explains what is and is not meant by “free will.”

I do not always agree with his defining of the terms.   He lists the three options:  necessity (fatalism), contingency (free-willism) and certainty (Reformed and Augustinianism).  My problem with Hodge’s list is that traditional Reformed orthodoxy made a distinction between the necessity of the consequent (absolute necessity as pertaining to God ad intra) and necessity of the consequent thing (conditional necessity). My problem with his term “contingency” is that it risks confusion:  God is a necessary being; man is a contingent one.  It is evident, though, that Hodge makes clear he means the semi-Pelagian options.   He does advance the discussion forward, though, with his use of the term “certainty.”  Hodge is content to show that opponents of the Reformed system cannot demonstrate a contradiction between the proposition “all events are foreknown by God and will happen with certainty,” and the proposition, “Man can make rational choices apart from absolute necessity.”  Hodge lists several metaphysical and biblical examples.   God is a most perfect being.   This is a certainty (else we are doomed!), yet few will argue that God’s liberty is impinged.   Jesus’s crucifixion was foreknown in the mind of God, yet the Roman soldiers sinned most freely.

This raises an interesting issue:  many semi-Pelagians try to duck the Reformed charge by saying, “God simply foresees who will believe and elects them based on his foreseeing their believing.”  Besides being a crass works-righteousness, does this really solve the problem?  Is their belief any less certain?   If the semi-Pelagian argues that election is God’s foreseeing their faith, then we must ask if this is a certain action?   It’s hard to see how they can say no.  If they do affirm that it is certain, then they must at least agree (hypothetically) with the Reformed gloss that certainty does not destroy free agency.  If they say certainty does destroy free agency, then they need to abandon the old argument that God elects people upon foreseen faith (ironically, this view is quite compatible with a limited atonement!).

So what does it mean for a man to act “freely.”  Few people on either side ever define this satisfactorily.   Hodge loosely follows the standard Reformed gloss:  the will follows the intellect (which is assumed to be fallen).  Man can be said to act freely if he acts naturally:  man acts according to the way he was created (II: 304).  A natural choosing is not necessarily a libertarian one:  I can be said to naturally choose an option if I can show that I am using the faculties that God gave me:  intellect, will, etc.’  Yes, the outcome is certain but it doesn’t follow from that that we are robots.

Evaluation of Hodge’s proposal

Despite some confusing groundwork on Hodge’s part, I think he advanced the discussion.  He neatly interacted with free-will advocates like Thomas Reid, showing that Reid’s proposal is in no conflict with Reformed theology.  I think Hodge should have followed Turretin more closely:  posit  a distinction between consequence and consequent.

Contrasting Two Sexual Theologies

Puritan’s view of sex.

Ancient Christian Sexual Thought by P. Sherrard.

Yet in spite of the fact that marriage is recognized as a sacrament by the Church, the attitude of Christian thought towards the sexual relationship and its spiritualizing potentialities has in practice been singularly limited and negative. From the start Christian authors have been ill at ease with the whole subject…

early Christian theologians did not hesitate to affirm that celibacy is per se superior to marriage; and, second, they have seemed incapable of envisaging any aspect of sexuality other than its purely generative (not to say genital) expression, and towards this they display an antipathy obsessive to a degree scarcely less than vicious. Although precluded by their basic doctrine from subscribing to an out-and-out dualism in this matter, and so from attributing the origin of sexuality directly to an evil power, their practical attitude differs little from that of dualists of a Manichaean type. Sexuality is tainted. It is impure.

He had also made it clear (I Cor. VI: 16) that for man and woman to become one flesh and so to conform to the symbolism of the union of Christ and the Church they had to fulfill the act of coition. When this symbolism was regarded as conferring on marriage a sacramental dignity—and St. Augustine himself believed this to be the case—the fact that marriage could acquire this dignity and so its indissolubility only through such a consummation continued to be accepted virtually without question. This placed Christian theologians [EO and Rome] in an untenable position. They were obliged by scriptural authority to accept that the procreation of children was an end good in itself and that by becoming one flesh man and woman partook of a “great mystery” and possessed the sign of a supernatural union; yet they were persuaded that the act which determined both procreation and this sacramentum is tainted with evil.

Reflecting on an old debate

About three or four years ago, “J.D.”  issued a number of challenges to Reformed Theology that he figured were deal-breakers.     They were along the lines of “if you believe this, then the following absurd results come.”  These challenges had some teeth at one time.  They were different from the standard Roman and Arminian claims.   They’ve since been answered by folks of varying degree.   A few years later they began to lose some of their “bite,” because the gentleman in question began investing in a theological tradition, only to attack it some months later.  Still, I want to offer my own comments on them.  Turretin fan did a decent job with them, though my answers will be different.

The Nestorian Accusation

1) “[A consistent Calvinist must be] Nestorian, in that the Logos cannot assume a fallen human nature.”

The thrust of the challenge is this:  does a “fallen” human nature = a sinful one?  If yes, then Jesus has a sin nature.  If no, then one must give up certain claims about Reformed anthropology.

Response:  We need to first make a distinction about man’s essential qualities and his accidental qualities.  Pace the essential qualities, man does not have a positive principle of sin in him.  Hodge is very clear on this.  Man can take a “blow to his morality” with regard to original sin and yet his essential human qualities remain in tact (e.g., rational creature, etc).   With regard to our identification in Christ, all that the Reformed need to do is demonstrate that Christ has the same essential human nature as we do (rational faculty, etc) and yet identifies with us in terms of federal representation.

The Manichean Accusation

2) “[A consistent Calvinist must be] Manichaean, in that nature is inherently evil.”

We’ve already rebutted this: we do not posit that man has a positive principle of sin.  To the degree that we say human nature is “evil,” we are simply using Scriptural language (Ephesians 2:3).  The question is what do we mean by nature and evil.   If we want to see who is really Manichean, ask how some traditions view sexual pleasure in marriage (here an EO theologian openly admits his tradition is Manichean in practice).


3) “[A consistent Calvinist must be] A Monothelite, in that in conversion, the divine will supplants the human will. And this would go for Christ’s divine will as well.”

This one is tricky because any answer denies a “package deal.”  At the most basic the 6th ecumenical council said there are two wills in the person of Christ.  We agree.  The problem is that a lot of the theology and argumentation under girding this claim doesn’t hold water for more than five minutes, and historic Reformed theologians were very wise not to put all their eggs in this basket.  The specific challenge is wrong because for Reformed theology, conversion, salvation, and regeneration are not synonymous terms.  We believe that the will is passive in regeneration but very active (sometimes) in conversion.  This is a very elementary mistake.  The apologist in question comes (originally) from the Federal Vision tradition, which has a very shaky understanding of good Reformed theology.


4) “[A consistent Calvinist must be] A tri-theist, because God the Father cuts off His own Son in the crucifixion (and maybe the Holy Spirit as well?): but Jesus, in all orthodox Trinitarianism, shares the same divine will as His Father.”

This is an an example of where refined, Patristic metaphysics simply fails on Scripture.  The Bible routinely talks about the Messiah being “cut off.”  His problem is that he is reading the language of “cutting off” in almost a physical-ontology manner.  Cutting off is covenantal language, and since these chain-of-being theologies do not have a concept for a robust federalism, they really can’t incorporate this idea.  Even worse, what do we make of Jesus’ cry, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”?   We do not believe that the divine nature was separated from the human nature, but we do believe (as Scripture teaches) that the person was cut off (covenantally judged). To reject this is to make hash of the Bible.


5) “[A consistent Calvinist must be] A gnostic iconoclast, because the Logos cannot be imaged.”

Close (except for the gnostic charge).  A better way would be, “The Logos cannot be imagined by those to whom he has not hypostatically appeared.”  And as we know, an imagined Christology is a docetic Christology.  Here is where the debate between the two sides turns into a Mexican standoff.  The Reformed accuse the iconodule of Nestorianism, since they are separating the divine nature from the human.   The iconodules accuse the Reformed of Nestorianism for precisely the same point.  Neither side acknowledges the elephant in the room:  the doctrine of enhypostasia.  This implication of Chalcedon means that all natures have to be in a hypostasis.  So the issue then becomes:  are you truly imaging the divine person?   No.  The divine nature can only be imaged in the hypostasis of the Word.  Is the Word locally present in the icon? Obviously not.  This is where the Nestorian charge returns:  by imaging the human nature of Christ apart from the hypostasis of the Logos, you are dividing the two natures.


6) “[A consistent Calvinist must be] A pagan, in that the Father can damn the Son of His love in wrath, splitting the Trinity: something more akin to Zeus.”

I think we have already dealt with this:  there is a “cutting off of the Son” in some sense, for Scripture says precisely that.    I admit that Patristic metaphysics is very neat and beautiful at times, but that’s the problem:  it is too neat and cannot account for the 53rd chapter of Isaiah.   I will acknowledge Jay’s point on one thing, though:   Reformed (mainly English-speaking) dogmatics haven’t really dealt with this issue after Hodge.  We have already established that the Father “cuts off” the Son in some sense.   The question remains as to the mode of the cutting off.    Francis Turretin’s comments are beautiful (vol 2, section 13):

  • The desertion is not absolute, but temporal and relative.
  • It is not according to the union of the nature, but in respect to the joy and felicity of the Son to the Father.
  • In defending Calvin from Bellarmine, Turretin notes: But:(1) who does not see that ‘damnation’ is put here for ‘condemnation,’ according tothe most customary style of the French language at that time? (2) If Christ is called ‘a curse,’ why cannot damnation be ascribed to him?


7) “[A consistent Calvinist must be] A Pelagian, in that you have the same view of pre-lapsarian man as Pelagius, and what must be lost is human nature, because nature is grace.”

This is actually an excellent critique of the Federal Vision.  By admixing faith and works, the Federal Visionist mixes nature and grace.  We do acknowledge a works-principle in the pre-lapsarian Covenant, but that’s not particularly the charge J.D. makes.  He doesn’t develop the charge, but I think he is saying that if we have a 1:1 identity with Adam, and Adam lost something in the fall, and Christ is the second Adam, then either Christ is representing us according to a pristine human nature (which we don’t have) or a fallen human nature (which pre-lapsarian Adam didn’t have).   That’s the essence of the critique, though he never really explains it.

In response we may say, again quoting Hodge, that there is a distinction between the essential imago Dei and the accidental imago Dei.  The latter is not necessary to human nature.  Further, the Pelagians denied man was created originally righteous because this would violate man’s neutrality towards good-evil.


8) “[A consistent Calvinist must be] An ecclesiastical relativist, because there is no authoritative Church.”

Depends on what we mean by “authoritative Church.” If unity is glossed as “everybody under the same expression of praxis and authority, then we do not share their view of a united Church.  Nor is it apparent from Scripture that we should.  It’s ironic that the EO reject absolute divine simplicity, but affirm it with regard to the unity of the church.  However, I can blunt the charge entirely:   The Scottish Covenanters believed in an established church.


Each of these points can be developed more fully.   The gentleman in question was originally a Federal Vision Reformed, then Roman Catholic, then Eastern Orthodox, then ????  He recently invited me to a debate at his website.  I don’t have time for it at the moment so I had to decline.  My goal here was to give a decent enough rebuttal to these original attacks.   They are far sharper attacks than what Reformed people normally deal with.   About three years ago these attacks caught a number of Reformed people with their pants down.  I think now Reformed folks are learning their older theology which in having dealt with Roman Catholic theologians like Bellarmine, are now able to respond to these neo-Palamite attacks.