Thursday, March 02, 2006

Incarnation, Election, and Fall Part III

We have been looking at the idea that Jesus would have become incarnate even if Adam did not sin in the Garden put forth by many Federal Visionists. Some of you may be asking is this really important? Isn’t this sort of like the debate about whether or not angels have voice boxes? Does it affect our system of beliefs or is this just something pastors do when they have too much time on their hands? I believe it is important and it does affect our system.

If we hold to an idea about Jesus coming even without sin, then we have fundamentally altered the work of Christ on earth. The redemption from sin purchased on the cross becomes secondary, something that was added because of Adam’s failure, but what Jesus would have given Adam in the Garden remains the major focus of salvation. The death of Christ is no longer as important as the incarnation of Christ. It is nice to have our sins removed from us, but it is not salvation, nor can it be seen as Christ’s major work in the Federal Vision system. As James Jordan puts it, “What we receive is not Jesus’ merits, but His maturity, His glorification” (pg.195).

Notice who held this position historically in the church. Rupert of Deutz seems the first to put forward this position of Christ becoming Incarnate if Adam had not sinned. Rupert was a German Mystic who lived around 1120. The mystics were famous for two things. One their devotion to God, and two the union of the believer to God. In this union came justification. In this union came all things. Union takes priority over everything else. The devotion often aids in the union with Christ. Salvation then takes on more of a participationism or implantationism rather than any form of imputation of Christ’s merits to us. This is very similar to Jordan’s desire for the maturity and glorification of Christ rather than any sort of merit from Christ.

John Duns Scotus is also a proponent of Jesus Incarnate apart from Adam’s sin. Scotus is most famous for his view of the Freedom of the Will of God, or volitionism. In his working out of this doctrine, he declares that God’s election is free from everything else including sin. He goes on to state that nothing in nature or guilt of sin made it necessary for the Son of God to die. Salvation could have been accomplished in many other ways. God simply chose the death of his Son as the way it would be done. Scotus then separates election and the incarnation from the redemption from sin. It then downplays the centrality of the cross as salvation could have very well been done by an man or angel if God had so willed, and Christ would have become incarnate if Adam had not sinned.

These men reveal some of the tendencies that Incarnation apart from sin creates. While Scotus can be seen as positing his view as a defense of God from any accusation from sin, more can be gleaned. Scotus lowers the atonement of Christ by saying election and salvation could be done in many ways, God simply choose to have his Son die on the cross. The lowering of the atonement is a bit more explicit in the Rupert the Mystics view where union with God gains a greater focus. A trend continued in the Federal Vision.

In short, arguing for an Incarnation apart from sin removes the atonement or death and resurrection of Christ from the center of the gospel. The emphasis is shifted to his birth or his incarnation in general. What the believer needs is no longer the death of Christ so much as his life. This of course can be gained through the mystical sacramental eating of grace or faithful obedience that keeps one in covenantal union to Christ’s life. Therefore, this discussion is not a mere distraction, but part of the main issue in the Federal Vision debates.


Andrew Duggan said...

Right on.

One really would need a different or perhaps a new perspective on Paul in order to conclude that Christ's maturity and glorification are the principal things we receive from him, and that by way of his incarnation. Doesn't Paul deal with this exactly in 1 Cor 2:2?

For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified.

If that doesn't state the absolute centrality of Christ's sacrificial death, then what can? Logically, I suppose a F.V. proponent would have to deny that to remain consistant. Perhaps it is too simple a passage of scripture for their wisdom to comprehend?

If the incarnation of Jesus was going to happen anyway, why would God wait and only announce it in conjunction with the aftermath of Adam's sin and the fall? Is the "Because thou hast done this..." in Gen 3:14 when God is speaking to the serpent not to include Gen 3:15 also? Either way, why would God omit the part about maturity and glorification from Gen 3:15, if that is was to be the primary reason for the incarnation? The only things that he mentions there are the overcoming of the serpent's actions and Adam's fall (the enmity and the bruising of the serpent's head) and the suffering of Christ (bruising of his heel), which is really quite the same as 1 Cor 2:2, i.e., Jesus Christ crucified.

Also why would the angel tell Joseph to "... call his name JESUS for he shall save his people from their sins." (Math 1:21) Why wouldn't the angel rather say, call his name Emmanuel for he shall bring maturity and glory to his people? Even Luke 1 gives no room to the F.V. as the angel tells Mary to "call his name JESUS". While he does go on to speak about Christ's kingship, he doesn't actually give any reason for the name, but that doesn't suppress the witness the simple meaning of word Jesus.

I know I would rather be numbered among the fools to whom Christ by his Spirit has revealed himself, and through him, God the Father, than to be among the wise and learned men that perceive and receive him not.