Reformed Theologians Get Busted by the Feds?

Posted by on March 2, 2015 in Apologetics, Catholicism, Covenant Theology, Imputation, Justification | 611 comments

The Reformed notion of Federal Headship states that all of mankind lives under the representative umbrella of a father figure, namely Adam or Jesus. They say the reason why God can consider all men subject to the consequences of Adam’s deliberate sin, even though we didn’t personally sin, is because God judges us ‘in Adam’. Likewise, when a person is saved, the Reformed say that person is worthy of the blessings of salvation, not for anything they did, but because of the perfect obedience of Christ, with God judging them to be ‘in Christ’. To put it crudely, it’s as if all mankind were placed in one of two boxes, one labeled “Adam”, the other labeled “Jesus”. God doesn’t judge you personally, only by proxy, only based upon the box you’re in.

With that imagery in mind, popularly termed “Imputation,” it can be easily seen why Protestants believe salvation cannot be lost and why they shudder to hear Catholics teaching that our works play a role in our salvation: If we are ‘covered up’ (hidden) in the box labeled “Jesus,” and that’s all God judges us worthy of heaven or hell based upon, then obviously God wont be judging us based on our personal sins (causing us to deserve hell) or on our person good works (causing us to deserve heaven). This is what Protestants mean by “Christ Alone” and “Grace Alone”.

But if this Federalism/Imputation framework is true, then why does the Bible frequently speak of our personal sins being forgiven and our personal sins being the basis of our damnation? Why is God concerned about our personal failings if He is judging us solely based on the failings of Adam? If we are in the box labeled “Adam,” and that’s all God looks at, why does God care or judge us according to the box of our own sins? The only answer I can envision is that Federalism/Imputation must wrong (or only half-true). It is wholly inconsistent and even equivocal for a Protestant to say Jesus as Federal Head represents the believer entirely but Adam as Federal Head represents us only partially. Just as “Jesus plus our works” is anathema to Protestant ears, by the same logic, so must “Adam plus our works” must be rejected…and yet the latter is contrary to Scripture’s frequent claims of our personal sins being the object of God’s wrath and forgiveness (Romans 1-3).

This is not to say that Adam and Jesus are not ‘heads of humanity’ in a real and crucial sense, because Catholicism certainly believes they are heads. The point is that it cannot be Sola Headship as the Reformed teach, but rather (somehow) a combination of headship and our personal living.

611 Comments

  1. Jonathan,

    There is no situation in which God gives no grace (the so-called natura pura), because that would be identical to creating a rational creature that lacked God as its end. God doesn’t owe grace to any created thing. But God would never refrain to give grace to a rational being, because that would make such a rational being purposeless and therefore, God would have no reason to create it. That is effectively the heresy of Calvinism; it renders the non-elect ultimately purposeless.

    God gave us grace in the garden. We rejected it.

    Yes, and as I said, the purpose isn’t to absolve God. It’s to affirm God’s own purpose in creating rational beings at all. God doesn’t create rational beings in order not to give them grace.

    Maybe that’s your take on it, which is only one possible RC take on it. Others around here have questioned how God could be just to demand something of it without giving us sufficient grace. They’re trying to absolve God.

    Just stop.

    Productive

    You weren’t literally in Adam; you weren’t even federally “in Adam” in the sense that you are responsible for what he did wrong. If you honestly believe something that ridiculous, then it’s still not even worth mentioning to Catholics, because it will get laughed away.

    Well, if you weren’t willing to laugh at the Bible, you wouldn’t be Roman Catholic. You’d be Protestant. But if we are going to talk about ridiculous doctrines, we probably should start with transubstantiation, the infallibility of the papacy, the perpetual virginity of Mary, or some other such thing.

    If nothing else, you’re just projecting your own fault on us; you accept this absurd time travel theory in order to make it just for God to punish people (like infants) who haven’t actually done anything. That is the hypothesis that really stretches into absurdity in order to exonerate God for culpability. By contrast, sufficient grace has nothing at all to do with whether God would be “culpable” in some hypothetical (but impossible) world in which he created rational beings for a purpose other than communion with Him.

    Absurd time travel. Clearly you don’t understand federalism.

    If babies weren’t guilty of sin, they wouldn’t die. Death is only for those who are personally guilty or the One who bears our sin and guilt before God. Death is the punishment for sin. Just ask Adam, Uzzah, Moses, and scores of others.

    I’m glad you don’t think God needs to be absolved of culpability (of course, if you were consistent with this, you would accept that Calvinism doesn’t make God guilty of evil, but who cares about consistence, eh?). But you’re not the only RC, and yours isn’t the only RC view, as demonstrated by the discussions here.

  2. Robert,

    I would like to better understand federal headship! Could you please define the term for me? Can you give an example of some current institution that has a “federal headship” outside of Christianity?

    Here is the definition I have been able to find;

    Federal headship refers to the representation of a group united under a federation or covenant. For example, a country’s president may be seen as the federal head of their nation, representing and speaking on its behalf before the rest of the world

    Does that sound about right to you?

    Challenge: You keep on saying things like “we were given grace in the garden and rejected it”. Is it your understanding that YOU chose to sin in Adam, or that ADAM chose to sin and you get stuck with the consequences? If Christ is your new federal head, is it equally as true that YOU decided to sacrifice your own life on the cross for the world, or did CHRIST make that decision and you got stuck with it?

  3. Robert,

    You said, “If babies weren’t guilty of sin, they wouldn’t die. Death is only for those who are personally guilty or the One who bears our sin and guilt before God. Death is the punishment for sin. Just ask Adam, Uzzah, Moses, and scores of others.”

    So you are okay with, and think it is a completely reasonable conclusion from scripture, that infants – and the unborn that were miscarried or aborted – are potentially in hell suffering eternally? Seriously?

    Yet, you balk at accusations that the god of Calvinism is a monster. Maybe we have different definitions for the word monster; how do you define monster?

  4. Lane,

    So you are okay with, and think it is a completely reasonable conclusion from scripture, that infants – and the unborn that were miscarried or aborted – are potentially in hell suffering eternally? Seriously?

    I go back and forth on this. I see some merit in the view that all infants are elect, but I also see merit in the view that we do not have enough revealed in Scripture to answer this question. At present I’m essentially agnostic, but I lean in the direction of seeing all infants as elect.

    If not all infants are elect and some do go to hell, then the way in which this happens is entirely just. God will define what is just and what isn’t, not our sentimentality. The judge of the earth will do right, but He defines what is right.

    Yet, you balk at accusations that the god of Calvinism is a monster. Maybe we have different definitions for the word monster; how do you define monster?

    A monster would be whatever God says is a monster.

  5. Kenneth,

    As far as federal headship, I think there are analogies, but nothing that perfectly parallels the biblical concept of it. I suppose the closest thing to federal headship in Adam’s case would be a scenario in which my local representative votes exactly the way I would vote in every House vote. There is no such animal, so there is an analogy, but it is not precise.

    You keep on saying things like “we were given grace in the garden and rejected it.” Is it your understanding that YOU chose to sin in Adam, or that ADAM chose to sin and you get stuck with the consequences?

    I would say that Adam represented humanity (and thus me) so perfectly in its unfallen state that whatever he chose is what I would have chosen if placed in the same situation. I was there in a representational capacity, perhaps even in some realist way because my genetics go all the way back to Adam, but the emphasis is on Adam as a representative. I didn’t literally exist back then, so I personally didn’t make the choice, but Adam made the exact choice I would have made if I were in his place.

    If Christ is your new federal head, is it equally as true that YOU decided to sacrifice your own life on the cross for the world, or did CHRIST make that decision and you got stuck with it?

    No, because unlike Adam who represented unfallen humanity, Christ represents fallen humanity. So I never would have made the choice Christ made. That is what is so amazing about grace!

    Nobody got “stuck” with anything. God didn’t ask anyone if they wanted to be represented by Adam, they said no, and then God had Adam represent them anyway. God the king established the order, and He did so in a matter fully consonant with justice. But we don’t judge divine justice. That’s one of the reasons why all of these discussions on the atonement thread about it being contrary to justice and the Trinity for sin to be imputed to Christ are kind of beside the point. If God says it is just, it is just. If God says He can do something, He can do it. If our doctrine cannot accommodate the whole scriptural witness, the doctrine must be tweaked or rejected entirely.

  6. Robert,

    “I go back and forth on this. I see some merit in the view that all infants are elect, but I also see merit in the view that we do not have enough revealed in Scripture to answer this question. At present I’m essentially agnostic, but I lean in the direction of seeing all infants as elect.”

    Fair enough. I’m glad you go back and forth on this. Your knowledge of God’s Goodness, Justice, and Mercy help to gain insights and maybe draw conclusions. And those insights persuade you that a Good God probably wouldn’t send an infant to hell for eternity.

    “If not all infants are elect and some do go to hell, then the way in which this happens is entirely just. God will define what is just and what isn’t, not our sentimentality.”

    I agree that whatever is going to happen will be keeping in with the character of God – we lack the full picture. If given the full picture we would agree with God. However, in ignorance, if there are two reasonable interpretations available, why choose the harshest one? We are created in the image of God; we can be rational and are morally aware (thus culpable), no reason to dismiss this as “sentimentality”.

    “A monster would be whatever God says is a monster”

    This sounds an awful lot like “might makes right”. An act isn’t good because God commanded it; God is Goodness itself. He is Justice. He is Mercy. I don’t think it is “sentimental” to believe that God wouldn’t act against His own revealed character. Again, if there are more than one interpretation available, why choose the harshest one? Do you believe that one gets brownie points for believing the harshest view?

  7. Robert,

    “But we don’t judge divine justice. That’s one of the reasons why all of these discussions on the atonement thread about it being contrary to justice and the Trinity for sin to be imputed to Christ are kind of beside the point. If God says it is just, it is just.”

    The problem with this is that it begs the question. We are trying to figure out which interpretation is best with what has been revealed and by our faculties of reason. We can know what is Just, at least to some extent. Especially since we are require to act justly, we have to be able to understand what is just. If two or more views are available, and one by our rational and moral reasoning is NOT Just, we can reason that that is probably not the best view. We are NOT judging God, we are judging available interpretations.

  8. Robert,

    As far as federal headship, I think there are analogies, but nothing that perfectly parallels the biblical concept of it. I suppose the closest thing to federal headship in Adam’s case would be a scenario in which my local representative votes exactly the way I would vote in every House vote. There is no such animal, so there is an analogy, but it is not precise.

    It is not precise because you are affirming to contradictory claims. Either Adam made the choice FOR YOU or else you personally made the choice “in Adam” (whatever the hell that means).

    I would say that Adam represented humanity (and thus me) so perfectly in its unfallen state that whatever he chose is what I would have chosen if placed in the same situation. I was there in a representational capacity, perhaps even in some realist way because my genetics go all the way back to Adam, but the emphasis is on Adam as a representative. I didn’t literally exist back then, so I personally didn’t make the choice, but Adam made the exact choice I would have made if I were in his place.

    OK great so you didnt actually make any choice in the garden. It was made for you and you got stuck with the results. Because “hypothetically” you assert you would have done the same thing. You are guilty on an imagined hypothetical, but on account of nothing that you actually did. Next question, what scriptural evidence do you have that suggests we all would have made the exact same decision as our federal head Adam?

    No, because unlike Adam who represented unfallen humanity, Christ represents fallen humanity. So I never would have made the choice Christ made. That is what is so amazing about grace!

    Wait, what? I dont see the difference. Both men make a choice for the people they represent (supposedly). Only, in Adams case he does what we all would have done…. but in Jesus case there is a disconnect. How can there be a true “federal headship” if that is the case? You said the closest analogy you had was one where a state rep votes exactly the way you would have. Now all of a sudden the rules are changing.

    Nobody got “stuck” with anything. God didn’t ask anyone if they wanted to be represented by Adam, they said no, and then God had Adam represent them anyway. God the king established the order, and He did so in a matter fully consonant with justice. But we don’t judge divine justice. That’s one of the reasons why all of these discussions on the atonement thread about it being contrary to justice and the Trinity for sin to be imputed to Christ are kind of beside the point. If God says it is just, it is just. If God says He can do something, He can do it. If our doctrine cannot accommodate the whole scriptural witness, the doctrine must be tweaked or rejected entirely.

    Yes but as rational creatures we are not obliged to hold some man made interpretation of scripture that inevitably leads to God being unjust. Thats what you are somehow missing.

  9. Lane,

    This sounds an awful lot like “might makes right”. An act isn’t good because God commanded it; God is Goodness itself. He is Justice. He is Mercy.

    Well goodness has no independent existence apart from God, so you are basically right. I would say that what God says is good is good because it somehow reflects His character. It’s probably best to say that an act is good because God commands it and God commands an act because it is good.

    I don’t think it is “sentimental” to believe that God wouldn’t act against His own revealed character.

    I don’t either, and that’s not the issue. The issue is the definition of good that has been revealed.

    Again, if there are more than one interpretation available, why choose the harshest one?

    But you are evaluating what is harsh based on what you think it would be good for God to do and what it would be good for Him not to do. Where does divine revelation say it would violate goodness for God to send an infant to hell? Remember, the Bible says that happy are those who dash infants against rocks (Ps. 137). That doesn’t sound very good to me. Obviously the verse is given in a certain context, but the point stands.

    The basic issue is that we can only trust our reason as to what is “good” up to a certain point. Lot’s of people reason that abortion is good and that extramarital sex is fine and dandy. It looks quite harsh to them for Christians to claim that abortion is a grave sin and might send them to hell. But I’m not going to determine what is right and wrong based on what someone else’s reason says.

    Do you believe that one gets brownie points for believing the harshest view?

    No. I’m interested in the true view. Which is one of the reasons I am agnostic. There is so much emotion involved on this particular issue that it’s hard to actually discuss the “truth.” I have three children. If any of them were to die in infancy (only 1 is an infant), I would want them to go to heaven. I want all of my children to be elect. But what I want doesn’t define what is good. I’m fallen, and so is my reason.

    BTW, I was once very adamantly in favor of the view that all infants go to heaven, so the fact that I am more agnostic doesn’t reflect a change in the direction you would want me to take. My study of Scripture has led me to be less confident that all infants are elect. I just am not sure Scripture gives us enough information on the issue, which tells me that it may not be something God wants us to know. We have to be willing to come to a point where we say that God is good no matter what He says or does even if our reason cannot wrap ourselves around us. But that requires a very high view of sin and its effect on humanity. Probably the root problem with Roman Catholicism that drives all others is that Rome doesn’t really believe the fall did all that much damage to us.

  10. Kenneth,

    It is not precise because you are affirming to contradictory claims. Either Adam made the choice FOR YOU or else you personally made the choice “in Adam” (whatever the hell that means).

    No, it’s not precise because there is no scenario I can imagine in the present world in which another person would do exactly as I would do in another situation. “Free will” and all that jazz.

    OK great so you didn’t actually make any choice in the garden. It was made for you and you got stuck with the results. Because “hypothetically” you assert you would have done the same thing. You are guilty on an imagined hypothetical, but on account of nothing that you actually did. Next question, what scriptural evidence do you have that suggests we all would have made the exact same decision as our federal head Adam?

    I’m guilty based on the fact that I was in Adam, not an imagined hypothetical. I really was there, at least positionally, and position is in the driving seat when it comes to our standing before God.

    As far as scriptural evidence, I don’t have a chapter and verse to give you. It’s a deduction from the character of God and His justice. If God is going to choose somebody to represent me in my unfallen condition, He’s going to choose someone to represent me perfectly.

    Wait, what? I dont see the difference. Both men make a choice for the people they represent (supposedly). Only, in Adams case he does what we all would have done…. but in Jesus case there is a disconnect. How can there be a true “federal headship” if that is the case? You said the closest analogy you had was one where a state rep votes exactly the way you would have. Now all of a sudden the rules are changing.

    The closest analogy I have pertains only to Adam. And yes, the parallel is that both Adam and Christ make a choice, and that both true have a true human nature. Beyond that, there’s all sorts of discontinuities. Adam was not a divine person, nor am I, but Christ is. Adam did not have a divine nature, nor do I, but Christ does. I am a physical descendant of Adam, but I am not a physical descendant of Christ. And I could go on.

    The fall changes things radically. There is no perfect parallel to who Christ is and what He does. He is sui generis.

    Yes but as rational creatures we are not obliged to hold some man made interpretation of scripture that inevitably leads to God being unjust. Thats what you are somehow missing.

    It only leads to God being unjust if you don’t define justice scripturally. Besides, the RC view, judged purely from reason and experience (which is how people judge Calvinism to be contrary to justice), isn’t any less just. How is it just for God to allow Adam’s act to deprive me of grace such that I will inevitably sin and be liable to go to hell? And how is it just to send me to hell for not responding to sufficient grace when sufficient grace really isn’t sufficient and I have to have something else (namely efficient grace and divine election) to escape hell?

  11. Robert,

    Probably the root problem with Roman Catholicism that drives all others is that Rome doesn’t really believe the fall did all that much damage to us.

    Maybe. But maybe the root problem with Calvinism that drives all others is that Geneva really believes that the fall did too much damage to us. If you go too far with our rationality being damaged, you can’t even argue in favor of Calvinism, you can’t argue at all. You can’t make any moral judgments. We being morally culpable requires understanding, so that none will have excuse.

    “Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them. You, therefore, have no excuse…” (Romans 1:32-2:1)

    Knowledge leads to no excuse, implies that no knowledge is an excuse. An infant has an excuse, even it could be proved that they somehow sin. Undermining ones knowledge, gives excuse.

wordpress visitor