Friday, March 25, 2016

A Response to The Ligonier Statement on Christology: The Word Made Flesh

R.C. Sproul’s Ligonier Ministries has just issued “The Ligonier Statement on Christology” titled “The Word Made Flesh,” which is referenced in this blog (scroll down the page to find links). It is a lengthy and elaborate affair that departs from the simplicity and beauty of the gospel of Jesus Christ. What caught my attention about it, however, was some strange contradictory statements that I found in it. In article 7 it says the following:

“We also deny that sin is inherent to true humanity or that Jesus’ sinlessness is incompatible with His being truly human.”

This is a rather odd statement coming from someone who adheres to Reformed theology. In Reformed theology man is inherently a sinner. He is born that way. He is tainted with Adam’s transgression, or the “Original Sin” form conception. He is born guilty of the sin of Adam, and there is nothing he can do about it. So what gives, that all of a sudden he appears to be having second thoughts about this fundamental tenet of his theology? The following quote from article 9 of the statement may give us some clues about that:

“We deny that Jesus inherited from Adam the effects or consequences of Adam’s fall or that He had in His humanity the corruption of original sin.”

This of course is the traditional Christian view, that Jesus’ humanity was not tainted with the fall of Adam—unlike the rest of us who have been—with the obvious implication that Jesus’ “humanity” was not identical to ours. His “human nature” was different from ours. In traditional Reformed theology man is born a sinner—whether he likes it or not. He is a sinner from birth—which Jesus couldn’t have been, otherwise he would have been a sinner too. That is the traditional Reformed (and Catholic) theology. This gives us some clues as to what R.C. Sproul is on about in article 7.

Most Christians have now wised up to the idea that Jesus’ humanity was in fact no different from ours. The human nature that Jesus had put on was identical to ours. This is what the Bible teaches:

Hebrews 2:

16 For verily he took not on him the nature of angels; but he took on him the seed of Abraham.
17 Wherefore in all things it behoved him to be made like unto his brethren, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people.
18 For in that he himself hath suffered being tempted, he is able to succour them that are tempted.

Hebrews 4:

15 For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.

“Without sin” in the last verse doesn’t mean that he was “born without sin. Everybody is “born without sinNobody is “born” a sinner in this world. It means that he never committed any sins in his life. He was tempted, but unlike the rest of us, he never committed any sins. So R.C. Sproul is caught in a quandary. On the one hand he doesn’t want to deny a fundamental tenet of his theology, that man is born a sinner (unlike Jesus) because of the Original Sin; and on the other hand he doesn’t want to offend the sensitivities of many Christians who have wised up to the flaws in that theology, and have figured out that Jesus’ humanity was in fact no different from ours. So he is see-sawing between the two not knowing which way to go. He wants to play both sides of the table at the same time, and cant figure out a way to do it. The following quotes from an article in Wikipedia explain the Protestant theology of the Original Sin:

Martin Luther (1483–1546) asserted that humans inherit Adamic guilt and are in a state of sin from the moment of conception. The second article in Lutheranism's Augsburg Confession presents its doctrine of original sin in summary form:

“It is also taught among us that since the fall of Adam all men who are born according to the course of nature are conceived and born in sin. That is, all men are full of evil lust and inclinations from their mothers' wombs and are unable by nature to have true fear of God and true faith in God. Moreover, this inborn sickness and hereditary sin is truly sin and condemns to the eternal wrath of God all those who are not born again through Baptism and the Holy Spirit. Rejected in this connection are the Pelagians and others who deny that original sin is sin, for they hold that natural man is made righteous by his own powers, thus disparaging the sufferings and merit of Christ.”

Luther, however, also agreed with the Roman Catholic doctrine of the Immaculate Conception (that Mary was conceived free from original sin) by saying:

“[Mary] is full of grace, proclaimed to be entirely without sin. God's grace fills her with everything good and makes her devoid of all evil. God is with her, meaning that all she did or left undone is divine and the action of God in her. Moreover, God guarded and protected her from all that might be hurtful to her.”

Protestant Reformer John Calvin (1509–1564) developed a systematic theology of Augustinian Protestantism by interpretation of Augustine of Hippo's notion of original sin. Calvin believed that humans inherit Adamic guilt and are in a state of sin from the moment of conception. This inherently sinful nature (the basis for the Calvinistic doctrine of "total depravity") results in a complete alienation from God and the total inability of humans to achieve reconciliation with God based on their own abilities. Not only do individuals inherit a sinful nature due to Adam's fall, but since he was the federal head and representative of the human race, all whom he represented inherit the guilt of his sin by imputation. Redemption by Jesus Christ is the only remedy.

John Calvin defined original sin in his Institutes of the Christian Religion as follows:

Original sin, therefore, seems to be a hereditary depravity and corruption of our nature, diffused into all parts of the soul, which first makes us liable to God's wrath, then also brings forth in us those works which Scripture calls "works of the flesh" (Gal 5:19). And that is properly what Paul often calls sin. The works that come forth from it – such as adulteries, fornications, thefts, hatreds, murders, carousings – he accordingly calls "fruits of sin" (Gal 5:19–21), although they are also commonly called "sins" in Scripture, and even by Paul himself. Link.

In Mormon theology of course that doctrine is entirely false. In Mormonism nobody is born a sinner. We become sinners entirely by our own actions, not by the action of Adam or anybody else. The fall of Adam in and of itself does not make anybody a sinner. The fall of Adam has given us a tendency to commit sin, which is another way of saying that it has made us subject to temptation—and all of us at some point in our lives yield to that temptation—some more and some less. Jesus was no different from us in that he was subject to temptation in exactly the same way as we are. He inherited the consequences Fall in that sense of the term in exactly the same way as the rest of us (whereas God is not subject to temptation, see James 1:13). The only difference was that by virtue of the divine power that he possessed he was able to resist that temptation to the Nth degree, which none of us are able to do. That is what made him sinless. Apart from that there wasn’t any difference between him and us as far as his human nature was concerned, or the way in which he was born.

Jesus’ humanity had to inherit the consequences of the Fall so he could be tempted and overcome that temptation, without which he could not have performed the Atonement. That is what the Atonement in part entailed (Heb. 2:16–18; 4:15). 

He had to be subject to the Fall so he could become mortal like us, and die for our sins. The fall of Adam had brought death into the world and made us all mortal. If he had not been subject to the fall of Adam he would have been immortal as Adam was before the Fall, and he could not have died for our sins. He had to become subject to the Fall so that he could overcome it on our behalf. It is because of his death and resurrection that we overcome death and are able to live again. It is his resurrection that makes our resurrection possible.

If Jesus had not been made subject to the consequences of the Fall he could not have died, been resurrected, or atoned for the sins of the world. Being made subject to the consequences of the Fall does not automatically make anybody a sinner. It is yielding to temptation that makes one a sinner.

Reformed theology is flawed, and appears to be unravelling before our eyes with every passing day.

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