It was either Scott Clark or Carl Trueman that said this. I think the point is a profound one and it helps explain both the Reformers use of ancient sources even while noting significant disagreements with them. Someone had pointed out that the Reformed actually differ with Augustine on justification. Yes, and what of it? It actually illustrates how we use ancient sources. We are not cherry picking through the fathers, but reading them in conjunction with our reading of Scripture.
I grant that Augustine had a (from my perspective) a problematic view of justification, even if I can appreciate what he said about original sin and predestination. If I read Scripture and note that faith is contrary to a works-principle, and yet see elements of a works-principle in Augustine, then I politely say Augustine erred on this point. Even the most hard-core Anchorite does not agree with even his favorite fathers on everything. Even Athanasius taught the extra-calvinisticum (and this is extremely problematic if you believe what Leontius of Byzantium taught regarding enhypostasia).
A clearer example would be St Anselm. If it weren’t for St Anselm we would be stuck with some of the sillier ransom theories of the atonement. Do we fully accept what Anselm said? No, for few of us mentally operate in terms of feudal justice. But he asked the right questions.
One of the newer weapons in the arsenal of some convert apologists is the “person-nature” distinction. It basically argues that the person is the “who” that does the action. The nature is the “what.” On the most basic level it is a fine distinction. One has to use it in Trinitarian theology. Person isn’t nature, otherwise the Trinity falls apart. Many Easterners, however, use this distinction as an architectonic template for all of theology. Admittedly, it is quite attractive. The most cogent defense of it is by Joseph Farrell (see the one on Babylon’s Banksters, Part Six–roughly 25 minutes into it). In short, it goes like this:
- The doctrine of the corporate person (by that he means something akin what the West teaches about all of man’s representation in Adam) confuses the person nature distinction. It is defined by a group of persons who unite into one larger group of “person” by their respectivefunctions.
- Obviously, this is the foundation for the medieval notion of the corporation.
- Directly tied to Western conception of original sin.
- The cash-value aspect of this is that I can’t be responsible for what another person does.
There is much wisdom in the above and the West certainly took the idea of the corporate person in extremely deleterious ways. However, to say that it isn’t “biblical” or that it is “unfair” goes too far. Let’s look at some texts. I am deliberately leaving off Romans 5:12. In 2 Samuel 21 David is being punished for Saul’s sin against the Gibeonites. On a surface level at least, this is the clearest rebuttal to the idea that Federal Representation is unbiblical and unjust. In 1 Corinthians 12:14-20, we see something akin to the body being defined by the functions of the members. Granted, it’s not a 1:1 correlation of the corporate person.
While those who reject Federal Headship in Romans 5:12 can still do so on some exegetical grounds, I hope the above texts remove the objection that the idea of Federal Headship is unjust. One man’s actions, so we see, can represent another’s.