Saturday, March 7, 2009

Some Minor Details

I once thought that the substance of Christ's work was pretty much the Crucifixion. About five years ago, I discovered that Jesus did more than die for our sins - he also rose for them in the Resurrection. This, I found, via P. Andrew Sandlin, then later, to a richer extent through N.T. Wright. It was only in the last couple of years that I discovered that even this was an insufficient account of Christ's work. I've since come to see that to really talk about the "person and work of Christ," we've got to talk about all kinds of things, like the possibly endless significance of the Incarnation, the Ascension, and Pentecost.

There is a temptation to downplay the important particularity of these special events by summing up all of them under the the rubric of "the active and passive obedience of Christ." That, after all, is a much simpler paradigm. It's shorter to say, and so-simple-it-can't-be-wrong - and of course it's not. Christ did suffer the wrath due unto us, and - though there are more elegant ways to say this - he did "earn" us salvation - but that's really where the rub is, isn't it?

IMHO, this is what the FV and the NPP controversies are all about - not whether or not Christ is our only access to the Father, not whether or not there truly is a "covenant of works" - but to me it's always been a matter of whether or not there was a better way to say "he met the righteous requirements of the Law." To be sure, he did and he did. But Christ was more than just righteous. Or to say it even more precisely, the righteousness of the Law is more than binary categories of good actions versus bad ones. The Law was a tutor unto a way of being, specifically unto a way of being truly human. Christ is the resurrected Adam, and as such has become the prophetic priest-king of Creation that Adam failed to be(come).

The whole thing comes down to questions of anthropology (what is man?) and stems from a reading of Scripture which I think most Reformed seminary professors would affirm (though almost certainly with a litany of qualifications to shield themselves from criticism) - that reading, of course, finding its root in the eschatological hermeneutics of Geerhardus Vos and Meredith Kline, the patron saints of both Westminster East and West. (Though we all know it was the Kline-ians who finally put the FVers to shame.) The gist of this interpretive approach is that, given the fact that the Gospel was predestined in the symphonic structure of (redemptive) history, and given the fact that the eternal magnificence of the Gospel so much more surpasses the grace of the Creation, it is taken for granted that man was always created for "bigger, better things" (in scriptural tongue this sounds like "from glory to glory") than to just till a garden while the Lord would watch over his shoulder to make sure Adam didn't screw up. The general description (under this reading) of the arrangement of the Covenant of WorksTM (the Edenic Covenant, the Adamic Covenant, the Covenant of Creation) is that it was a probationary covenant - that is, it was a test - and as such would have ultimately yielded some sort of glorification of Adam. This is affirmed by Kline-ians and FVers alike. And while James Jordan argues against any category of "merit" to be imposed upon this arrangement (preferring instead "maturity"), Meredith Kline (Jordan's estranged father) anticipates this criticism and argues instead for both, turning the proverbial Van Tillian table on Jordan, stating that God is powerful enough to hold together merit and maturity in mysterious simultaneity (cf. Kingdom Prologue, somewhere around the middle).

And still, I think that Kline's polemics againsts the "scholastics" (read: systematic theologians) is a copout here. I think the fact that he acknowledges this duality in the heart of God, offers a real challenge to his position, and shows that Jordan and the grace-hating Federal Visionists have a point, but that point is no more pointed than my own here, that we are whining over semantics and that, at the end of the day, we've got to pay greater attention to the specifics of the biblical narrative. If the doctrine of "active obedience of Christ" is an incomplete doctrine, then we should walk the via media between the FVers and the Kline-ians together and acknowledge the validity of the traditional language, while pointing to a possible improvement in light of Holy Writ.