Friday, June 03, 2016

God's foundling

I'll comment on this post, which is a follow-up to an impromptu debate I've been having on limited atonement:

If it doesn’t actually effect salvation for anyone in particular in and of itself, then what’s the deciding factor, and why?

i) From a 5-point perspective, that's not the right way to frame the issue. According to limited atonement, the atonement ensures or secures the salvation of those for whom it is made. It doesn't effect salvation in isolation to other factors. But it does entail the salvation of those for whom it was made. It's not that Christ's atonement works automatically, but it renders salvation certain for those on whose behalf it was made.

ii) In addition, this goes to the elementary question of what it means to say Christ died for people. That's a shorthand expression. In what sense did Christ die for them. What's the objective? The atonement is a means to what end? 

The 5-point position seems, to me—and I may be misrepresenting it, but this is how 5-pointers themselves often seem to present it—very mechanical. The atonement is like a machine that, once it’s turned on, auto-targets the elect and runs them through a redemption mill, while God just kinda sits back. The atonement itself does all the work of salvation, such that everything that happens afterward in the ordo salutis is just a formality—there is a genuine sense in which once the atonement happens, the elect are saved regardless of what occurs afterward. Even if they never learned about God, exercised faith, or walked in good works, they would be saved because their sins are covered at the cross. They are justified in God’s eyes before they ever exercise faith because Jesus has already paid for every one of their specific sins.

There are several problems with that characterization:

i) It's eerily similar to how confused freewill theists attack Calvinism. They say predestination is fatalistic. If you're elect, it doesn't matter what you do or don't to. Once the election machine is switched on, it autotargets you for salvation and runs you through the formalities, while God just kinda sits back. Election does all the work. Everything that happens in real time makes no difference to the outcome. You are saved regardless of regeneration, justification, sanctification, and perseverance, because you were saved from eternity. You were saved in God's eyes before you exercise faith. 

ii) In 5-point Calvinism, there's a Trinitarian division of labor in the economy of salvation. Those whom the Father elects the Son redeems and the Spirit renews. 

All the elements are coordinated. For instance, justification is contingent on faith, while faith is contingent on regeneration. The Father justifies on the basis of the Son's atonement, while the Spirit produces justifying faith. 

iii) Original sin has two basic components: 

a) Guilt or culpability

b) Moral corruption and spiritual inability.

(a) is objective while (b) is subjective. (a) involves a relation between God and the sinner while (b) involves the personal character of the sinner.

The plan of salvation is an antidote for both. For instance, justification and propitiation affect the objective status of the sinner, affect the relation between God and the sinner–while regeneration and sanctification affect the sinner himself. Justification is something God does for the sinner while regeneration is something God does to the sinner. 

iv) Even if, for the sake of argument, we accept the "mechanical" metaphor, why should that have pejorative connotations? Do we fault an airplane because it got us safely and swiftly to our destination? Would it humanize airplanes if they suffered random mechanical failure, causing the plane to crash? When did efficiency become a bad thing?

I reject the Owenic view of limited atonement because I take faith itself to be the effectual means of justification.

What makes Bnonn suppose that limited atonement, or John Owen's version in particular, is opposed to justification by faith?

Now, I say “faith,” but what that means to 5-pointers seems to be somewhat different to what it means to me. 5-pointers, in my experience, have an impoverished view of faith where it is simply something like willing assent to the truth of the gospel. God then treats this as a sort of “token” for declaring us righteous.

That may be an accurate description of how Gordon Clark viewed it. And I believe that Bnonn was initially influenced by Vincent Cheung, although he's outgrown that. So perhaps that's his residual frame of reference.

In 5-point Calvinism, saving faith is an expression of something more fundamental: spiritual renewal. Faith has different functions. On one function, God has keyed justification to faith. But faith has a broader function, as a general outlook on life. A sense of absolute dependence on God. A basis for prayer. A source of hope. 

Once we are family, the question becomes: how can the Father justly treat us as righteous? That is where the atonement comes in. There has to be some way to cover our sins. And that is what Jesus provided on the cross. When we become Jesus’ brother, he becomes our family head. That means the Father looks to him as the one responsible for our conduct.

Well, to play along with the familial model, in the OT you have the metaphor of divine adoption. That involves divine initiative. Divine adoption is, itself, a spiritual blessing which is, in turn, a source of other spiritual blessings. 
There's a graphic illustration of this metaphor in Ezk 16, where Israel is like a newborn baby that was abandoned to die from exposure or predation. That's not in response to faith.  The foundling was in no position to either choose or refuse to be rescued. 

That’s how corporate, familial responsibility works—strange as it seems to our highly individualistic culture…rather than chunking it down into a weird conglomeration of individualism and federal headship, glued together by purely forensic categories.

But there's a basic tension in Bnonn's model, inasmuch as justification by faith is inherently individualistic. So he himself will have to combine corporate elements (e.g. federal headship) with individualistic elements (e.g. justification by faith).

So it’s not that unbelief is damnatory while other sins are not, as 5-pointers tend to wonder. Rather, when we refuse to swear allegiance to Yahweh and be adopted into his family, we naturally remain outside his family, and thus unrepresented by Jesus. In that case, we are damned for all our sins, including our refusal to swear allegiance, because there is no one else to take our stripes for us. We take them ourselves.

But that dodges the issue. Why would the atonement render every other sin forgivable, but leave unbelief the one unforgivable sin? Unbelief becomes the gateway sin to hell. 

Now, I’m not saying that justification doesn’t involve a forensic imputation. What I am saying is that “forensic imputation” is not a familial category; it is a legal one. If we insist on framing our thinking about how God declares us righteous in legal, pecuniary categories, when Scripture treats it as being a fundamentally familial event, then we are going to get a very skewed picture of the atonement, of faith, and of justification.

It's unclear what Bnonn means. Is he affirming or denying that justification is forensic? Or is he affirming that it's forensic, but not in a pecuniary sense of legality? There's a massive exegetical literature defending the forensic nature of Pauline justification. 

The Bible uses many different theological models and metaphors for salvation. It's reductionistic to make the "family" the fundamental principle. And it's confusing to blend categories. Arguably, Pauline justification is "purely forensic". 

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