Irish With A Tan

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Original Sin

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There are a few ways to look at responsibility and consequences.

a) Groups of individuals simply facing the consequence of another’s action.

b) Groups of individuals being held culpable for the actions of another since they are somewhat responsible or involved.

c) Groups of individuals being treated as if they were culpable for the actions done by another for which they were neither responsible or involved.

Original sin, as held by many in the Reformed movement, teaches that we are treated as guilty for the actions of another. It runs off the notion of imputed guilt, which is used in the manner of (c). It could only be just if a satisfactory relation between the first individual and the group is established. Or one could posit that morality is ultimately voluntaristic [anything at all that God could decide it to be]. But I don’t see a satisfactory relation between Adam and humanity to allow for such an imputation. And this first imputation of guilt, is the template for the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to us on this view. Romans 5:19 is often used as a supporting verse ”For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous.”

So Original Sin only works if one believes one of the following:

a) Me and Adam are the same person, since guilt is a personal property that cannot by swapped around “The one who sins is the one who will die. The child will not share the guilt of the parent, nor will the parent share the guilt of the child. The righteousness of the righteous will be credited to them, and the wickedness of the wicked will be charged against them.” (Ezekiel 8:20)

b) I inherit it at birth because evil is a substance. And I’m given Adam’s *evil* stuff at birth. Which I think is problematic. And confuses what is properly attributed to nature and what is attributed to persons.

c) God just says that these imputations happen, in order to allow for the substitution to occur, for his justice to be satisfied. Nominalism. In name only/Voluntarism.

This touches on the nature of the atonement and what it was Christ was trying to achieve. But essentially, the satisfaction of God’s justice on this schema depends on the validity of the doctrine of imputation. And really, the doctrine does not teach that Christ was guilty due to anything he did. And it says that not a single iota from us counts towards our justifying righteousness. Thus making peace with God, grounded in abstract relations, of which union with Christ by faith, is a means for you to get on the positive end of these relations. Not to mention that on this view, a Divine Person can be justly condemned for sin they did not commit. That for me is frightening.

Adam’s state of death was a consequence of his sin. Because it seperated him from the grace needed to keep him in that probationary state of immortality. From the moment he sinned, he began to die as an ontological consequence (“Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked” Genesis 3:7). God, upon finding Adam in this state (“Who told you that you were naked?” Genesis 3:11) essentially says, “I warned you, and now this is what you get.” It’s a natural consequence, but God’s response to it, turns it into a punishment. If indeed he began to die immediately, before God even shows up to sentence him, then it is indeed a natural consequence (unless one wants to say that he had this grace even when he sinned). Point being that just because it is natural, does not mean it is not also a punishment. Since God actively works to let it play out (Genesis 3:22). So for Adam it’s not either/or it’s both/and. The order however is, natural consequence –> punishment. Kind of like if I waste all my money and I’m left in a dire state. Then my dad says “See I warned you this would happen, but I’m not bailing you out this time. You’re going to learn your lesson.”

We then inherit this fallen state and corruption. But are not being punished for what Adam did per se. If by punishment we are implying personal culpability. That is both denied by Ezekiel 18:20 and is metaphysically unfounded. However, when we sin, we do merit the consequences. And are deserving of them. That is why scripture says “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord (Romans 6:23).” Wages are merited. And we are merited only what we do. So unless one wants to advocate that we are merited the foreign guilt of Adam, it then it could be argued we are merited the foreign righteousness of Christ. And Luther was right.

The first thing I would say is that the premise of Anselm’s theory of satisfaction, or at least how he arrived to it, is that he was trying to reach the conclusions of the Christian faith without Divine Revelation. As such, he formed certain premises and by their logic is trying to show how it must be that one sacrificed had to be both God and man in order to satisfy God, to allow us to be forgiven. If it is a necessity, then God’s character seems less than ours in that he needs something outside of himself in order to be forgive. If is a necessity of his justice, then his justice and mercy are pulling at two different directions, an internal struggle as it were, in which only an an external event, the Cross, could save God from his personal dilemma. If it is neither a necessity of his character in order to forgive, or not a requirement of his justice, then God is choosing to use a mechanism for forgiveness that doesn’t reflect who He is and is rather superfluous from my perspective. That’s why I say that while I’m willing to be persuaded of Satisfaction theory (since I don’t have all the kinks as it were worked out in CV) I find it unnecessary.

“This is properly the effect of a sacrifice, that through it God is appeased, as even man is ready to forgive an injury done unto him by accepting a gift which is offered to him..And so in the same way, what Christ suffered was so great a good that, on account of that good found in human nature, God ha been appeased over all the offenses of mankind” (ST III, Q. 49, Article 4).

Here Aquinas seems to have the propitiation as that which makes God ready to forgive humanity. Though in reality, God is the one who initiates the redemption and is essentially offering the gift to himself. Which means it is not really about making God ready to forgive, but then it must be an issue necessary for his justice, which brings us back to the inner turmoil issue. Or the superfluous one.

As opposed to our view, where the end of God’s justice and love is not opposed, but simply to rid his creation of evil and to restore it. If in the process, one chooses to remain on the part that is destroyed, they are receiving justice. If one repents, they are receiving mercy. But God does not need or require anything in order to forgive.

Then this is just a train of thought, if we are to go with the Orthodox view of the energies, certain of God’s energies are always in play no matter what God does. But none of the energies can be in opposition to each other. Thus the end of God’s love, forgiveness and justice are the same. And if one were to take Absolute Divine Simplicity, what is created is not the essence, what is divine is. If love, mercy and justice are created graces then it may be possible for one to infer that their ends are different. But if they are but different aspects from our point of view, of the one divine essence, their movement cannot be in opposite directions, for they are indeed one and the same. Meaning that God justice and mercy and love are one, with the same goal of creatiurely restoration. But given freedom, the creature will either fall on the side that is being destroyed, experiencing the divine power as justice or repent and experience it as mercy. But in both cases as with the energies and ADS, satisfaction and appeasement again seem superfluous.

I think it is very possible to say that God is against someone. But we ought not to take it as referring to a feeling in God of reresentment. Rather God being against someone is to show that God is moving in action to remove that person from furthering their cause of harming creation. But it must be noted that this person turned against God first, and since they are part of the problem, God will deal with them justly. If I turn against a current that was once carry me, it is correct to say that the current is against me. But really, who changed? The current is flowing in the same direction. I am the one who is moving contrary. And I am facing the consequences.

The issue here as it is with Bible verses in general, is not sacrifice, justice, Romans 5, the words “justified by faith apart from works”, punishment etc etc. The issue is what does one mean by these things and what role do they play in God’s plan of salvation. What I’m trying to see then, is how satisfaction, which is not synonymous with any of the above, plays a role, and what that says about God’s character and intentions. Not whether they are necessary or not. For you don’t believe that, so to argue against would be a strawman. But if it isn’t necessary, then I see it as superfluous and a poor reflection of character. 

Where I feel many Orthodox would part ways with Rome would be in saying that the issue of the atonement was not that God required satisfaction in regards to strict justice. But that if man were to be right with God, the salvation brought about with the atonement was necessary, and that is what it means to be justified/righteous. On the other hand, satisfaction is neither a requirement of his justice and is at the same time a poor reflection of his character, whilst bringing no ontological change to us or God. Purely a forensic matter and is the framework for the theories of the protestant reformation. Is it any wonder that things ended up as they did? I just see no need for it. And no good reason to believe it. I don’t think Anselm’s theory is dogma for Rome? But like Aquinas, it seems deeply weaved in Catholic theology.

Salvation is a process of becoming more like Jesus. It occurs by being united to Christ in a relationship of grace. Remember John 17:3, eternal life is *knowing* God, which is to have an intimate relationship with him. You can know you have it. But you can sever the relationship too. If you want to be with the Lord then per John 6:37 he won’t cast you out. If you walk away then you changed, not God.

Assurance/eternal security is facilitated by the Protestant notion of sola fide. Here the emphasis is on salvation in the past. Due to the fact that the key aspect of salvation is depicted as instant and personal. This being an immediate transaction that takes place at the moment of faith. The believer is credited all of Christ’s righteousness and thus able to stand free from condemnation before God. Because Christ had already been credited with their guilt and condemned in their place. Salvation is seen as something to “get” at some point. Thus a greater emphasis on it having taken place in the past. A one time, forensic event, with the rest of the Christian life being but an outworking of this moment. A moment involving nothing or no one other than the individual and Christ.

Contrast this to the Orthodox Church. Salvation is not seen primarily as instantaneous. Christ is not one considered guilty and condemned by being made liable for the crimes of others. Rather Christ is the remedy to the corruptions of sin in the soul, and it’s result of death in the body. Salvation then is for one’s entire human nature to be glorified like Christ’s (both material and immaterial). By partaking of the divine life. Bodily resurrection will happen in an instant. But the soul must be conformed to mirror Christ over time. This only comes by one’s willing co-operation with God’s grace, the inner working of God. The normal means of receiving grace will then be in the Church. Especially via the sacraments. Thus salvation is *process* intrinsically tied up with the Church, as the locus and normative setting of God’s saving power. Initial faith in Jesus followed by baptism is but the beginning of a life long process. A beginning which means little if one quits before the end. Much like someone who gives up making a cake halfway, is not better off simply because they started. This emphasis then, on salvation being future **and** conditional, repudiates the doctrine of Sola Fide. Not to mention that since you can’t baptize yourself, and baptism is the sacrament of initiation, the very beginning of your salvation process is not simply “You and Jesus.” Rather Christ is working, through the active participation of members his body, to birth individuals into His family.

You can have assurance that you are saved, in that you are in the process of being saved. But that is no guarantee that you will remain in that process. But if you don’t, God didn’t leave, it was you who left. And given salvation is future oriented in both the New Testament and Orthodoxy, technically, no one is really “saved” until they have arrived to the resurrection.

As per Titus 3:5,God does not bring us into his family due to anything we do. But that does not mean that once in, we don’t work at being transformed into the image of the ideal Son, Jesus. It’s a synergistic relationship of both Man and God “So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure (Philiphians 2:12-13).”

In regards to a bad day, think of it like a relationship. You could be having a bad day with your parents, doesn’t change that you guys are still close. Bad days and completing severing the relationship are different.

People leave this earth at various stages in that process, you don’t have to be perfect before you die. You just have to be in Christ. It is true that you are *saved* once you enter that relationship. But you are also *being saved* once it begins. And will be *saved* when it ends. So salvation has a start middle and end. It involves a single moment in time, but is not reducible to it. Basically, Salvation is to be in a relationship with God, ever being transformed into the likeness of His Son. And both transformation and relationships are not static.

———Related Posts———

Salvation Sans Imputation

Matters of the Atonement and Justification

Satisfaction Theory and Christus Victor in Job and Hebrews

Sola Fide (Again)

Natures and Persons: Grace in Reformed Theology and Eastern Orthodoxy

A Discussion on the Age of Accountability and Infant Salvation

Calvinism, Creation and Evil

Baptismal Evangelism

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17 comments on “Original Sin

  1. Steven Hoyt
    September 5, 2015

    original sin is a very late idea. now we can believe such things, or we can note one thing and ask again.

    if adam, a man, can damn the entire human species in one act without any involvement in our part and jesus cannot save a single human soul also without any any involvement on our part, including belief, then this system of though does not have anything in free will arguments to make distinctions and exceptions here, and man must be capable of redeeming himself through his own efforts because christ is impotent by comparison.

    that, or we can understand genesis on its own terms and know it is metaphor. the two trees in the middle of the garden being two choices in the middle of every moment of life; to love or to judge because we think we know how to, have a right to.

    there are at least a dozen atonement theories and the earliest three had nothing to do with anything about the nature of man or some cosmic sense of justice in which god not only doesn’t know what love is but also cannot forgive.

    i find no real NT texts that suggest the nature of christ is imputed, and adam and imputation is lost as something literal because genesis is metaphor.

    • Yoshua Scribes
      September 5, 2015

      I don’t hold to original sin as the Reformed teach it either. The most common atonement view has been “Christus Victor” long before Anselm’s satisfaction theory. St Athansius in his book “On the Incarnation” does a fantastic work of describing it. On my page I have link to a blog post called “The Cross Is the Incarnation.” You might enjoy it.

      • Steven Hoyt
        September 5, 2015

        ransom theory makes no sense and you really have to make a realism out of CV as far as i can see, since “yippee!” doesn’t really mean anything practical to you and me. recapitulation and moral influence, i think, puts the work on us and frames jesus as serving a very practical purpose.

        anyway, i’ll have to check that out. thanks for the tip! “ideas of atonement in christianity” was a good read for me. we’ll just exchange, having the same apparent interests. =)

        cheers.

      • Yoshua Scribes
        September 5, 2015

        Ransom theory is not the same as CV as put forward by Athanasius or the Orthodox church. Read the post I mentioned, and the links in this one. Particularly ‘Salvation Sans Imputation.”

      • Steven Hoyt
        September 5, 2015

        i’ll give it a read, but yeah … CV is a derivative. but we’re hitting from the tall grass on that by now.

      • Steven Hoyt
        September 6, 2015

        by the way, maybe it comes to opinion, but i have read theologians characterize ransom as the dominant atonement theory, even past satisfaction early on.

        i wonder if it because of their similarities, and one may read into or out of writings, or if some are generally mistaken?

        thoughts?

      • Yoshua Scribes
        September 6, 2015

        In my opinion it is a mistake to make ransom theory the main one. It may have been expressed that way by some in the early Church, but that was hardly the main view. Except maybe in symbolic terms they would speak of us being “ransomed” from the devil. But in reality the atonement as taught by Athanasius in “On the Incarnation”, which is the real Christus Victor, and which the Church has long celebrated in its liturgies is far different. It’s about Jesus healing us from the corruptions/decay of our separation with God by assuming human nature. Since we are made in the image of God, and since Jesus is *the* image of the Father (Hebrews 1:3), he is the template of humanity. And the goal for which we were created. Therefore he transforms human nature to what it was meant to be. And by his death and resurrection, immortalised humanity. And that is why all humans will be raised to life in the end. However we have free will. And the goal of being made like Christ is for the purpose of being made fit to partake of the fullness of divine life and Glory. To enter into the very exact same relationship that they Trinity enjoys with each other. But for that to happen requires personal transformation and conformity to Christ’s image. Which comes when we respond to God’s grace and co-operate with it. The Church, being the body of Christ and the continuation of Christ’s work on earth, is through its life and sacraments, the normal means of grave through which we are being saved. And whilst God is not bound by the sacraments and the Church, (being able to give grace outsider her), with her is the only safety and guarantee. Thus by healing humanity and defeating death, the works of devil brought about by deceiving humanity into separating with God, are destroyed. That is why the devil, as it were, has more of an emphasis in Christus Victor, and some might think the atonement is ransom to him. Because he is the one who wanted the death of humanity. And scripture says that Christ came to destroy the works of the devil, the one who had the power of death. We are warned too about taking certain theological images too far. Such as ransomed. As one Saint said, did God pay ransom to himself? No. Did he pay ransom to the devil? No way, he’s a usurper who has no right to humanity. Then who did he pay ransom to? To death by the offering of his life. Now, the Saint makes it clear that this ransom is metaphorical. The point is that we were slaves to sin and trapped in death, but Christ freed us. Death is personified, much like sin in Romans 6:12 and Genesis 4:7.

        In my opinion, the problem starts to arise with Anselm. Because now with the satisfaction view of the atonement, the use of Ransom becomes literal and has God as being the main problem against us, and Jesus having to pay something to him in order for us to be saved.

        Look at how Origen (c.185-c.254 A.D.) (who is not a Church Father, but important in many ways) used the terms ransomed, and how the issue of death plays out.

        “”But to whom did He give His soul as a ransom for many? Surely not to God. Could it, then, be to the Evil One? For he had us in his power, until the ransom for us should be given to him, even the life (or soul) of Jesus, since he (the Evil One) had been deceived, and led to suppose that he was capable of mastering that soul, and he did not see that to hold Him involved a trial of strength (thasanon) greater than he was equal to. Therefore also death, though he thought he had prevailed against Him, no longer lords over Him, He (Christ) having become free among the dead and stronger than the power of death, and so much stronger than death that all who will amongst those who are mastered by death may also follow Him (i.e. out of Hades, out of death’s domain), death no longer prevailing against them. For every one who is with Jesus is unassailable by death.” (Commentary on Matthew XVI, 8;
        Aulen, op. cit., p. 49).

        It’s easy then to see how given an Anselmian lens two things could easily happen 1) Any reference of being ransomed from the devil can easily become misconstrued as literal and having literal payment being given to him in exchange for humanity. 2) With the main problem now being shifted to God, the atonement is less about the healing of Man, by destroying the undoing of the devil. But about solving the bad blood between Man and God and *from* that, everything else comes. The devil is acknowledged as the one who may have started to problem, but now, God is the real threat from whom we needed saving. And this imagery is worsened by having the Reformed notion of Penal Substitutionary Atonement where Jesus is said to have faced the actual wrath which we deserved (for the problems with this view I have a link in this post called “Matters of the Atonement and Justification”). And as many in the reformed movement have said “The Cross is about God saving us from Himself.”

        However, even the symbolic language of ransom to the devil is not really what the Church advocates. Here is a good, though albeit long quote from another website:

        “Origen’s severe critic, Methodius of Olympius (d. c.311), following Irenaeus, viewed Christ as the new Adam because Christ assumed human nature and, just as all died in the first Adam, so they are made alive in the second. It was fitting that the Devil should be defeated and that the judgment of death which the Devil had brought on the human race was annulled through the very man he had originally deceived. Methodius virtually identified Christ with Adam. He actually says that it was appropriate that the only-begotten Logos would unite Himself with the first-born of men, Adam. In Methodius’ view the Lord’s humanity is the instrument by means of which He disclosed the resurrection of the flesh. More important in his view than the conquest of sin and death on the cross is the fact that the Logos “took to Himself this suffering body in order that … what was mortal might be transformed into immortality and what was passible into impassibility”. [12] It is clear that Methodius saw that salvation was primarily from death to life, resurrection of the dead. The Ransom Theory seems to be almost totally absent from his theory of Christ’s death.

        The Ransom Theory seems also to be totally absent in soteriology of Athanasius (c.296-373 A.D.). In his early treatise On the Incarnation of the Word, Athanasius argues that through the transgression of Adam the race of men became subject death’s power, and on this account death has legal rights over all men. But God’s purpose for creating man cannot come to naught; for His love for the fallen race persists in spite of the judgment of death upon them. Therefore the Word becomes man, that he may restore to life that which had been lost; for this was the one possible way, that Life, the Life of God, should enter into the world of men and prevail over death. In one place in his treatise [13], Athanasius asks whether God could have adopted some other way than that of the Incarnation, and he replies that for the gaining of salvation it might well have been sufficient that man should repent. Athanasius writes:

        “So here, once more, what possible course was God to take? To demand repentance of men for their transgression? For this one might pronounce worthy of God; as though, just as from transgression men have become set toward corruption, so from repentance they may once more be set in the way of incorruption. But repentance would, firstly, fail to guard the just claim of God. For he would still be none the more true, if men did not remain in the grasp of death; nor, secondly, does repentance call men back from what is their nature – it merely stays them from acts of sin. Now, if there were merely a misdemeanor in question, and not a consequent corruption, repentance were well enough. But if, when transgression had once gained a start, men became involved in that corruption which was their nature, and were deprived of the grace which they had, being in the image of God, what further step was needed? or what was required for such grace and such recall, but the Word of God, which also at the beginning made everthing out of nought? For his it was once more both to bring the corruptible to incorruption, and to maintain intact the just claim of the Father upon all. For being Word of the Father, and above all, he alone of natural fitness was both able to re-create everything, and worthy to suffer on behalf of all and to be ambassador for all with the Father.” [14]

        If the only problem had been that of sin and not of corruption and death as the consequence of the sin of man, repentance would be sufficient; but since through sin men had lost the Divine image, and become subject to death, on this account the Word must come and deliver them from the power of corruption.

        “And thus taking from our bodies one of like nature, because all were under penalty of the corruption of death he gave it over to death in the stead of all, and offered it to the Father — doing this, moreover, of his loving-kindess, to the end that, firstly, all being held to have died in him, the law involving the ruin of men might be undone (inasmuch as its power was fully spent in the Lord’s body, and had no longer holding ground against men, his peers), and that, secondly, whereas men had turned toward corruption, he might turn them again to incorruption, and quicken them from death by the appropriation of his body and by the grace of the resurrection, banishing death from them like straw from the fire.” [15]”” http://www.fromdeathtolife.org/rtoat.html

  2. Steven Hoyt
    September 5, 2015

    i can’t find your blog entry. have a link?

    • Yoshua Scribes
      September 5, 2015

      It’s the first one listed under “Related Posts” on this page. If you go to my main page too you’ll see the blog post called “The Cross is the Incarnation.” It will show the robust CV view of Athanasius. The whole idea too that ransom is made to the devil has been rejected by one important Church Father whose name is escaping me. And by Athanasius too. Bad representations of CV are not the widely taught doctrine of the Church. Nowhere in Orthodox Liturgies would such a notion be found.

      • Steven Hoyt
        September 6, 2015

        all very detailed. i liked your take on participation … very jewish, very islamic. as for the ins and outs of what that participation gets you, other than the practical (ie the fullest human experience of life), i’m not sure. i know if i were interested in heaven or hell or afterlives, i might engage the topic more. as i see no need to speculate on these things, my theology remains simple. whatever is after this life, it will take care of itself.

        i often wonder from a simple jewish message from christ (added to by involving the inner man and principle), what else should be required of any person to enjoy salvation and why. i really don’t think anything more is required. god loves us, nothing to do about it, but for now, live this way and find yourself in it.

        now whether we incant properly or not at all, who knows what’s at stake. but again, my inquiry and interests stop at the end of a person’s Iife.

        you’re very meticulous and i appreciate that. thanks for sharing your thoughts with me. keep us the good work.

      • Yoshua Scribes
        September 6, 2015

        Thank you Steven! I appreciate your kind comments. May I ask why your theology has little concern for the afterlife?

      • Steven Hoyt
        September 6, 2015

        largely because what it entails is metaphysical speculation. to me, what we do now isn’t effected genuinely by any particular view we may have. i think if we understand what we can of christ and his message, salvation and atonement have all the force and interest i could want now. if there is an “after this”, it will be sorted out. i understand folks wanting an intellectual and psychological contact with a cosmic “why” (teleology) or how (christology, soteriology, eschatology, et al), but i lack the interest. perhaps i’m overly practical? too, i may be reactionary in a communal sense hearing nothing but emphasis on “x! because if not, then heaven/hell” which to me is just the corruption of good theology for the coercion of saving souls, if that makes sense.

  3. Benjamin Scott
    September 7, 2015

    Steven,

    I’m enjoying your dialog with Yoshua Scribes, and I like your instinctive way of approaching subjects. I wonder though. Isn’t religion as a whole a metaphysical speculation? I understand well from my own speculations, how a moral example emphasis on the atonement can easily remain in temporal thinking about moral values here and now. Such a view may not even be informed by a transcendent God or any precise definition of His nature other than that it is good. But I don’t see a distinction between one type of religious metaphysical speculation and another. What defines man as being what he is? And what undergirds the need for moral informing and reforming of man? I’m not sure what your overarching worldview is here, if you’d care to comment? If man were to hypothetically, not live forever, do you think that this has any impact upon what value mankind might have? I mean, “in the great scheme of things,” as it were.

    Benjamin

    • Steven Hoyt
      September 7, 2015

      thanks, benjamin. it’s a good catch on your part. i outline some of my thoughts on exactly that question in my blogs, but suffice it to say, it is all metaphysical speculation. i agree completely, for instance, with a.j. ayer in LTL and george smith in “atheism: the case against god” but unlike each, we can’t very well say it is all “literally insignificant”.

      if we consider what we do with our ideas of gods, then it can mean everything. then too, if we reify the speculation, we can, will, and have done some very horrible thingd too.

      for me, to engage in theology is to ask what god is like, knowing i’m answering with a projected, anthropomorphic speculation about myself, a gamble on what i’m betting i can become, because being at one with that symbol is atonement for me.

      i presume that as i seek that “poor reflection in a cloudy mirror”, god (whatever that is) has the grace to meet me along the way in the experience of trying to be ” the good” in the world i imagine god to be.

  4. Benjamin Scott
    September 7, 2015

    Yoshua Scribes,

    Thanks for the detailed analysis. The moment we choose to redefine good and evil in this “imputational” way, we have at that very moment, ignored the real existential issue of good and evil. We’ve abstracted good and evil into something else other than what it is. By creating a falsifying mechanism which can be systematically grafted onto the Bible’s message of sin and salvation at every juncture, we can comprehensively ignore the real issues from A to Z throughout. We redefine evil with imputation at the fall, which leads to a redefining of evil with imputation at the cross. And in this we miss the fall, we miss the cross, we miss the point. And what is more evil than a message designed to replace the truth about evil? Maybe also a message which is also designed to replace the truth about good? So imputation is an idea from the abyss. Praise God for the Savior and His cross through which we can be transformed into His image and rise above sin and the denial of its existence, and into righteousness, past the denial of its existence! A rose by any other name would smell as sweet, but a skunkweed stinks even if you call it a rose. It’s meanings, not words that matter, and imputation takes the meaning out of the words the Bible uses to speak about the most important things we need to learn about. It’s a testament to how desperately relevant and important this message of the gospel is, that mankind is so intent on ignoring it that they must counterfeit it through tricky mechanisms like this one!

  5. Benjamin Scott
    September 8, 2015

    Steven,

    I really appreciate your endearing and intuitive intellectual transparency. I do want to engage with you honestly however, that I think you also know you are on a journey among peers, and that’s why you are communicating. Thus I hope I can relevantly engage with you in reply.

    If I understand you correctly, you believe that religious belief is existentially and anthropologically significant, but you are skeptical that it has any metaphysical basis. You are open to the idea but do not find it pivotal or compelling. Further, you believe that a metaphysical commitment to religion is possibly dangerous, but you see the exploration and commitment to some of its ingredients to be significant and maybe inescapable for you as part of your journey in life as a human. Let me know if I’ve misunderstood you.

    So on this basis, one judgment you give to a religion is whether it is consistent within its founding documents and early beliefs, or not? For example, imputation isn’t in the Bible or the early church, but modern pop Christianity believes in it anyway, thus, negative judgment on imputation. I’m not sure I follow this logic on your view? Especially since most of your own views, as I understand what you are saying, are not transparently espoused by the Bible or the early church either.

    So on what basis do you render your “amen” to my negative judgment on imputation? Projected anthropomorphic speculation maybe? Or is there anything more than this to it? Many other humans believe in imputation (as far as I can tell), and if that is again, an anthropomorphic reflection of themselves, then on what basis do we judge them to be incorrect? Because the Bible and early church say so? Or rather is it our own subjective opinion that our own view is more refined and “good” as we understand that? What are the limits of this venture and what is it worth?

    I completely agree with you on the limits of the isolated human mind’s speculative grasp on metaphysical reality. But I also believe that this is precisely what Christian faith has always claimed to transcend, as a mechanism whereby the transcendent, metaphysical and personal God, is personally realized as personal and knowable.

    And I also agree with you that the way that religious views affects our existence makes them important to get right. We are making significant and impactful moral decisions every day on the basis of our beliefs, and also, I might add, our latent (or manifest) skepticism of our beliefs. For it is not just belief but the negation of belief which is a dangerous problem.

    Orthodox Christianity, which is what we are discussing in this blog, is built on the basis of “faith.” Faith, as thus defined by Orthodoxy, is precisely the speculative metaphysical commitment you seem to see as dangerous. But faith is the entry point into Orthodox Christian discussion. This being the case, I am not sure how religion can be anthropologically and existentially meaningful or impactful without its basis in faith?

    Further, the judgment of deleting the “reward/punishment” ideas of religion founded in the afterlife as important, inherently removes the objective judgment upon the “good” and “evil” that is entailed by the same, and more ultimately by God Himself. I well agree with your reaction that “morality” in its highest form, should not be conceived out of merely fear or reward. But then Christianity doesn’t ultimately entail that idea on this level, as taught in Orthodoxy or the Bible. The basis for “Christian morality,” as I know it, if it is to have actionable power, must extend beyond our own selves and our own present temporal existences. Otherwise we are dealing more with something like aesthetics than ethics, and that’s a cloudy subject. At least according to (Orthodox Christian) Dostoevsky. “Christian morality” in that aesthetic sense, is not truly what Christ asked for from His followers. He asks for much more.

    The “afterlife,” and God, have every reasonable right to be viewed as revealing themselves to be both metaphysically real and personal, just as your life now is both real and personal. I am the same, or at least I hope you think so. And it is the value based relation between people like us that constitutes “morality.” If I am not real and personal, then morality has no basis in relation to me.

    But in fact the whole concept of “Christian morality” is a philosophical abstraction in the first place. Genuine “Christian morality,” to use that terminology, is ultimately an actionable love relationship between us and God on a personal level, and not really “moral,” per se. Morality is the wrong ultimate thing to be speaking of, because God, as both transcendent and personal, is that ultimate thing in Himself. Morality is a baseline standard and nothing more. And He must also thus be personal and real or else He is not God, nor someone we can worship and serve in the way I am describing. If we make “good” higher than “God” then we are not speaking about Christianity and we are removing the personal from morality, which is always personal. Transcendent Love, based in the story of God’s Son on the cross, which shows us meaningfully from the realized communication of God, both who He is, and and what “Love” is, (God being Love), is the basis of Christian eternal life, “morality” and consequently salvation.

    This love thus informs our lives as we love our neighbor in order to love this personal God back in reciprocation, and as we worship Him in all of our times and ways. It is the transcendent personal loyalty to this God which informs our human actions as being supra-human and not merely humanistic, which is inherently limited. Ultimately Christian love can thus be even viewed as downright disanthropic from the perspective of other humans and their temporal and cultural loyalties to themselves. The primary Christian commitment is to God, not to this sphere or to humans. Jesus said He came to bring “a sword” and taught us to “hate” our families in order to be loyal to Himself. The loyalty of this “morality” is transcendent of this world and creates martyrs and mystics, not reasonable good humans. False religion creates wars and crusades by this same transcendent principle, as you have noted. It also creates bizarre nonsense like imputation. So looking to these religions to be humanistic is looking in the wrong place for humanism. It is better to look at atheism and other belief systems which are more reliant upon human limitation, and thus rooted in different types of natural humanistic tendencies. Religion rather, is always meant to be done all the way past death, and humans tend to judge it as worthy of this full commitment if it deserves any commitment at all. It is in this disanthropic transcendence that ironically, Christianity creates a philanthropic church which reaches out to an inhumane world. Because of its transcendence of anything that humans are capable of imagining or understanding themselves to be, and to be responsible for in their speculations about themselves, it makes “good” even better than we really wished it to be. This is in keeping with the speculative limitations you recognize, but it is on the other level. For the problem is that the message of “good” that Christianity brings, is a message that is so good that it tends to offend humanity and their cultural sensibilities. It looks like “metaphysical speculation” to people who prefer the “good” of relative mutal human comfort on an uncertain planet.

    I realize that “faith” is a blind gamble from a skeptically informed perspective. But it is only because God is in fact metaphysically real, that we can reach Him through it. Matt. 11:25-30 thus turns out to be absolutely true. And the only way we can know it is by risking it. I also find this to be experientially true on a weekly basis, but my faith is not to be based in this experience. And on some level as we first approach it, you are right that the whole thing is “aesthetics” of a sort, on our side (my terminology I know). If so it’s an aesthetics based in the story of the cross and how open we are to the transcendent personal message that God is delivering to us in it. Not only about ourselves, but about God as the author and main actor of the story. This story only reflects back upon us as to whether we will accept it as it is stated, or not. If so, then as you said, we are gambling with ourselves about what we can become because of it, or rather the God who is beyond it and revealing Himself through it.

    I like you, and I trust you won’t be offended but rather enjoy it if I challenge you that I don’t think you’re gambling with everything you’ve got in your pockets yet. It seems to me that you’re holding back on the gamble somewhat up to this point, and thus putting limits on your game instead of putting all your money in the pot. Your idea of “good” up to this point, is not the one I understand to be near to a full reflection of God as “good,” as I know Him. So how are we going to gamble half way with this life unless that’s our own limited value judgment upon it? And does not this limited judgment reflect back upon a rejection of life put in bigger more transcendent metaphysical terms? And thus the good basis of your religious speculation seems to be the very thing you are putting a cap on up till now, because you have a higher commitment to another “religion” in serving two masters. Take your logic to its end in one way or another and you’re either all in or all out, but right now you’re playing the middle. Am I wrong? I believe that what’s worth gambling for is worth gambling for all the way. Or else it’s not worth your time. What’s worth living for is worth dying for – completely dying for. Heck, everybody dies sooner or later brother. And nothing here on earth has any real strength, if it is half way. That is why religion, and it’s lack, is so dangerous and powerful. I don’t think anyone can really be able to know the power I am speaking of here before that point in time in which they will die for it while still living, Gal. 2:20-21. And that reflects the limits we put upon ourselves, or not, imputational thinking being merely one of those limits which allows us to escape from the deeper definitions of words and meanings. God’s grace in meeting you and me is in pressing us to this point in place and time when it’s up to us to decide if we will follow Him personally as God or not, to our own deaths, taking up our crosses and following Jesus. If there is no afterlife then none of this makes any sense. And it reflects upon us that we are being invited. And it reflects upon us when we accept the invitation. But in either case it always reflects primarily upon God’s grace which has been moving in our lives all along, and always asking us to be “poor in spirit” and to realize our lack and need of Him. To let go of any other gods we are worshiping.

    If you think about it, holding metaphysical skepticism as an ultimate commitment means that everything else becomes a reflection of that ultimate commitment. Skepticism is a positive judgment about our own mind as much as it is a negative one. And even religious commitments themselves are subject to its tyranny unless we allow skepticism to lead to faith, first and foremost. Faith can be mistaken as we all know, just as skepticism can. The catch is that speculative metaphysical skepticism does not bar out God’s existence as personal, and the afterlife’s existence as real, as you seem to casually adopt that stance, any more than faith makes those things necessarily real. Skepticism only bars out our speculative knowledge of these things. But it similarly does so in relation to everything else in life if it is consistent. All of life is a gamble of speculation. And so there is no basis for assuming that these types of transcendent eternal questions are not just as meaningful and real to gamble about, as the present temporal existential ones are which you value dearly. Metaphysical skepticism offers no more purchase upon ultimate reality than blind faith does. Both can be right and both can be wrong. So if it’s a gamble then gamble. There’s no way to escape the table.

    Benjamin

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This entry was posted on September 5, 2015 by in Theology and tagged , , , , , , , , , , .
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