A kinder, gentler supralasparianism

The lapsarian debate has produced what Kant calls “an antimony:”  two seemingly true positions which cancel out each other.   The supralapsarian is correct in that what is first in intention is last in execution. I don’t know if this is a universal maxim, but I suspect it is. There is no getting around that.  The infralapsarian is correct that when God’s decree seems to follow his creating the “one for dishonor, the other for honor, from the same lump” (Romans 9, so Hodge and Turretin).

I think supralapsarianism has the edge, but not in the way the discussion usually goes.  On anyone’s doctrine of God, God is simple and his eternal knowledge is immediate and non-discursive.  God doesn’t decide to do this and then do that.  While the infra is correct that Paul has God using a lump of clay prior to the decree to save/damn, I wonder if Paul is merely using that as an illustration and nothing more.

I have not seen most Reformed people synthesize their correct understanding of God’s knowledge with election and incarnation.   The result, when done, is something like this:  If God’s knowledge is immediate and non-discursive, which all but Eastern Orthodox and Jesuits will acknowledge, then we may not say that God first decides to create and then decides to elect, or vice-versa.  Reformed people know this, but they are not as aware that this failure creates a metaphysical “gap” in the being of God.  As McCormack notes,

So the event in which God constitutes himself as triune is identical with the event in which he chooses to be God for the human race. Thus the ‘gap’ between ‘the eternal Son’ and ‘Jesus Christ’ is overcome, the distinction between them eliminated…. There is no ‘eternal Son’ if by that is meant a mode of being in God which is not identical with Jesus Christ” (pp. 218-19)

If God has always decided to be God-in-Christ, then he must have always been God-in-Christ-for-his-people.  This is the heart of supralapsarianism.

Of course, there are some problems due to the anthropomorphizing in any language, but I think it holds up.  However, I am not saying that the incarnation is eternal nor am I saying that Christ would have come regardless of Adam’s fall (I believe the opposite, actually). Theologians make a distinction between God’s decree and the historical outworking of God’s decree, without an imputing temporality into the eternal Godhead, and so that is how I would say that I don’t believe in an eternal incarnation.


A Convertskii Reading List for Those Leaving

I routinely accuse convertskii of not understanding Reformed theology before they get enamored with high church claims. It is only fair that I offer a survey of texts that one should know before declaring the Reformed faith wrong.  People will say, “But that’s too intellectual.  Christianity is a life.”  Perhaps, but people will always default back to logical decisions, sneers at “Westernism” notwithstanding.  And I have read most of your top guys, so it’s only fair.  And Bradley Nassif agrees with me, so there.

I am not saying you have to read all of these before you go to a different tradition.  What I am saying is if you publicly assert that Protestantism is wrong because of ____________, and the following men have addressed your arguments, and you do not engage their arguments, then you do not have good warrant.

Muller, Richard.  Calvin and the Reformed Tradition.  The high-point of Calvin studies by the world’s leading Reformation scholar.  It will teach readers to stop saying silly things like “Calvinism” or “TULIP is Reformed theology.”

Hodge, Charles.  Systematic Theology volume 3.  If you can give competent responses to Hodge’s defense of justification by free grace, then you know Reformed theology.

Turretin, Francis. Institutes of Elenctic Theology volume 2.   Best defense of Reformed anthropology and Christ’s priestly intercession.  If you still believe in talking to dead people after Turretin, then I tip my hat to you.

Horton, Michael.  Lord and Servant: A Covenant Christology.  If you still hold to a pure Christus Victor atonement theory, or you still hold to estrangement ontology, then you’ve earned your keep.

Jenson, Robert.  Systematic Theology volume 1.  If you believe that the Essence/Energies is logically, biblically, and theologically tenable, you must address Jenson’s critique of it.

McCormack, Bruce.  Orthodox and Modern.  You don’t have to read the whole book–just pages 205, 218-222.  If you can answer McCormack, then you are warranted in believing in a God behind the Persons who are behind the Energies.

Turretin on post New-Covenant, non-canonical festivals

(These–and others–are some old notes that I had on Turretin which I thought I had published)

First of all, festivals properly so-called must be commanded by the divine word because God has the right of proscribing how he wants to be worshiped.  The question then follows, do we see any such command?  Any appeal to “unwritten tradition” assumes what it is trying to prove and thus commits the fallacy of “asserting the consequence” (It looks like this:  if p, then q.   Q; therefore, p.  A Protestant inquirer could ask of the anchorites, “Where is the biblical warrant for practicing x?   The anchorite could then respond, ‘St Paul told us to ‘hold to the traditions.’” The problem comes in the next question, “How do we know that the traditions that Paul mentioned are the ones you are doing today?”  The anchorite can give one of two answers to this question:  if he says that the the church has remained unbroken in its liturgy; therefore, it is the practices observed today, then he has just affirmed the consequent of his argument and reasoned fallaciously.  On the other hand, he can admit that he doesn’t know if the traditions are the same, in which case the Reformed objection stands).

But what of Paul’s keeping the feast of Pentecost (Acts 20:16)?  Several things may be observed:  1) This could be seen as the time-between-times of Old and New Covenant; 2) Paul nowhere intimates that it should be kept necessarily; 3) if it Pentecost is to be kept necessarily, in no way does it follow that saints’ days today are binding on the conscience.

An interesting Puritan take is seen in the following clip, where Generals Cromwell and Rainsborough force the surrender of some Cavaliers.

On the nature assumed

One of the tricky questions in Christology is to what extent Jesus assumed our human nature.  The problem arises when we ask, “Did Christ assume the sinful part of our nature?”  If we say yes, then it is hard to see how Christ is sinless.  If we say no, then we have to (seemingly) admit that Christ didn’t really assume all of our nature.  The answer lies along the lines that sin is accidental to our nature, not essential to it.   Therefore, Christ can essentially assume our nature without assuming the sinful part of it. 


Turretin on hypostatic union

These are more of summary notes of certain sections of Turretin, vol. 2.

a composite union?  This language is used both by the ancient fathers (rather unsoundly) and more recently by Reformed fathers.  What the latter meant is that it is “composed rather of number than of parts properly so called” (II: 312) because many things (human and divine natures) numerically exist.  The fact that the fathers speak of a composite person should put to rest the charge that the Reformed Christ is Nestorian.

The Communicatio

The effects of the hypostatical union are twofold: some to the human nature and some to the person.   To the former are ascribed the grace of eminence and habitual graces (graces that are still human qualities but magnified). What is communicated?  The communication of attributes is an effect of the union whereby the properties of both natures are predicated of the person.  It is a real communication with respect properly to the person.  When Turretin speaks of abstract and concrete communications, the terms are to be understood this way:  we are not asking whether there is a communication of a concrete human nature to the person of Christ.  All sides acknowledge this.    The question is whether there is an abstract communication of nature to nature.

If the divine essence is communicated to the human nature (ala Lutheranism and some expressions of Orthodoxy), then the following must hold:

  1. A created thing becomes an uncreated thing.

  2. The human nature is thus immense and finite.

Further, what is proper to one cannot be communicated to another; otherwise it would cease to be proper and become common to that which is communicated (324). Either all of the properties of the divine nature were communicated or none were, since the divine essence is simple.  All of the properties of the Logos must be communicated or none are, since the Logos cannot be divided.  Further, if on account of the union the divine properties are communicated to the flesh, then the properties of the flesh ought in turn to be communicated to the Logos (325).  The union is reciprocal.  However, they are unwilling to admit this.  Further, if the union was made (the natures themselves and their properties remaining unconfounded and entire and distinct, as the Lutherans acknowledge) a communication of properties could not have been made in it.  For what is communicated does not remain proper.

Eschatological Presuppositions: Historicism

While Turretin’s argument that Jesus is the Messiah may not convince many Jews, he does have an interesting discussion of prophetic day = year theory.  As such, he is within the Reformed spectrum and ably presents the foundations for a Reformed eschatology (279ff). The background is Daniel 9.

Ezekiel 4:6 ( I have appointed thee a day for a year, even a day for a year.) notes the connection between day and year.  Some could object that this is pertinent only to Ezekiel’s prophecy, but a better case can be made that this is prophetic calculation (otherwise, the statement is manifestly false, which is impossible).  It cannot read literally, since seventy weeks do not quite make a year and a half, and as Turretin notes, it “little suits so illustrious a prophecy.”  (see also Rev. 12:6’ 13:5)

Were the fathers in limbo?

Were the fathers (Old Testament saints) admitted into eternal joy upon death, or did they rest in some limbonic waiting place? The former we affirm; the latter we deny.  Following Turretin (vol. 2: 257) we note: It should be borne in mind that limbo is actually a dimension of hell, not heaven.

  1. The covenant of grace under which the fathers lived does not allow for a limbo.  God promised to be their God eternally, not temporally.
  2. Christ says all live unto him (Luke 20:38)
  3. Christ does say that the ancients went immediately to the bosom of Abraham.  While I agree, since Christ is using this as a parable, I am cautious against putting too much weight on it literally.  Be that as it may, it cannot be argued that the bosom of Abraham is limbo, for Christ says that Lazarus received good things there.
  4. The prison in 1 Peter 3:19 cannot be limbo, for the grammar and syntax of the passage insist that it is the spirit of Christ preaching through Noah, indicating that it is during Noah’s time before the flood (cf Wayne Grudem’s exegesis, which I find convincing).

These arguments do not equally apply to the Eastern Orthodox as they do to Rome.  Orthodoxy does not have the same concept of limbo.  However, there are some similarities.  Orthodoxy does hold to a form of “spirits in prison,” which fits in with their Christus Victor motif (as evidenced in the icon of Christ leading Adam out of hades or prison or whatever).   Further, it seems to be a warrantable inference (on their gloss) that what is true of Adam, mutatis mutandus, is true of other Old Testament saints.  Yet, we have established that this cannot be true of other Old Testament saints; therefore, it is not true of Adam (if p, then q.  ~q; therefore, ~P).

An interesting project would be to apply the above reasoning to arguments about purgatory.