Friday, November 13, 2009

The Prelapsarian State and Grace

Many faithful Lutherans have argued that Adam was saved by grace through faith just as we are before the fall. While I commend this attempt to exalt the grace of God through out all of redemptive history; I think this notion of grace before the fall is mistaken.

If one admits that Adam was in need of grace before the fall, it admits the Roman Catholic doctrine that original righteousness was a super added gift. The fall then becomes merely the loss of a gift rather than a positive fall into sin. Man was righteous because he was a created being by a good God. To say that his righteousness needs to be added is to say that God's creation within itself is imperfect thus is in need of something else. This is to adopt a Manichean view of creation. Thus is is wrong to say that grace was given to Adam for righteousness.

This also obscures the legal definition of grace which is necessary for the gospel. Grace is the unmerited favor of God on behalf of the sinner. It is not something which is infused into the soul. Thus grace is God's disposition of love toward the unworthy sinner. This makes grace into either the mere kindness of God or something which changes a man inwardly (which it does but only as an effect of legal justification).

If grace is necessary for unfallen man then there is inherently something wrong with the creation. Salvation then becomes ontological. There is something wrong with man as creation and thus he needs to be fixed. This is the root of all mystical theology as well as the existential theology of Tillich and Bultmann. Traces of this idea are also found in Barth. However, creation as creation is good! It does not need to be subsumed into God, become one with God or become it's own God. It is good because it bears the marks of a Holy God. It is good as distinct from the creator because it recognizes the Creators superiority and otherness and submits itself to him.

Finally, to deny that Adam could merit anything in the garden is to deny that the second Adam could merit anything in his place. We can never speak of merit in the postlapsarian state; however, this does not negate merit in the garden. Adam could do good works and obtain blessing. His breaking of God's commandments would cause death and exile from the garden. This is essential to hold to because it means Christ as the second Adam could obtain an even greater blessing for us through obedience.

The objections I have heard from this are threefold; first, it is claimed that this makes God unloving and just like the Gods of any other pagan creation story. Secondly, it is said that this idea is wrong because it is found in the Reformed Confessions. Thirdly, I have heard that there is no basis in historical Lutheran writing for saying that Adam could gain merit in the garden.

Objection 1: God is certainly not unloving toward Adam and Eve in the garden. He is loving and kind toward them. He does not put them directly into a situation of chaos and warfare as do other gods. He has created them in righteousness that they are able to perfectly obey and love their creator. The differences between this and the God of the Enuma Elish should be obvious. We can certainly speak of Yahweh being good to Adam, and loving. We can even say that Yahweh gave man blessings he was by no means obligated to. This however, cannot be called grace because grace always refers to the kind disposition of God toward sinful man.

Objection 2: Yes, this does parallel the reformed idea of the Covenant of works in the garden. However, just because it is reformed does not mean that it is wrong. Lutherans for example have often used Calvin's three-fold distinction of the offices of Christ. Secondly, we do not need to call it a covenant of works as do the reformed and adopt their entire system. It may be proper to call it a covenant as in Hosea 6:7, though it is not necessary to do so. Covenant in Biblical terms usually refers to the Abrahamic, Mosaic, Davidic and New Covenant. In many ways, the reformed definition of the covenant of works was to defend the Lutheran idea of the active obedience of Christ. It is worthy to note that the Calvinists with greater respect for Lutheranism and the law-gospel distinction have fought for this doctrine, while those who mix law and gospel have argued against it.

Objection 3: Lutheran theology does not speak as explicitly in these terms; however, I believe the doctrine of Christ's active obedience as the second Adam necessitates it. Adam must have been able to gain merit so that Christ as the second Adam could gain what Adam did not. Also, Luther himself believed that it was possible to speak of merit in the prelapsarian state, "Yes, if we were devoid of sin, as was Adam before the fall, we would have no need of Christ; we might come before God in our own merits." (Complete Sermons of Martin Luther Volume III.2 page 285).
For Luther, the reason we cannot merit salvation is not because there is something wrong with our being creaturely, but because in Adam all have died. Thus, the law is impossible to fulfill.
Reach to Christ, the only perfect law-keeper who obeyed the law Adam disobeyed on our behalf.

8 comments:

Frank Sonnek said...

This is a very interesting post to me dear brother.

I first will identify myself as a Lutheran who subscribes quia to the Book of Concord.

The official Lutheran doctrine on the prelapsarian condition of man can be found in the Apology to the Augsburg Confessions, art II.

I will briefly outline what it says, and you can then go and read the article for your own self to confirm that I am, indeed, reading it correctly.

I would note that your comments don't really connect, either affirmatively or negatively with what Ap Art II says. I think you will agree.

Article II starts by saying that one cannot know what Original Sin is without first undertanding what Original Righeousness consisted of.

Art II states that the Adamic Original Righeousness, and also the very Image of God that Adam possessed were faith alone, in Christ alone.

When Adam sinned, this Original Righeousness and Image became totally lost and absent.

In addition there was another faith that "vicously" filled that vacuum. This the Lutherans call "concupiscence" after St Augustine, or lust/coveteousness.

I will note two things here:

1) The same greek word is translated as both to lust and to covet in english translations.

2) Secondly the Lutherans redefined the word "concupiscence" from the scholastic/thomist/aristotelian meaning of man's natural appetites and baser instincts driven by emotion. Instead concupiscence is exactly a faith that insists on placing it's trust in anything BUT Christ alone.

In summary then, Original Sin is defined in the Apology as the lack/absence of Faith in Christ alone PLUS a faith that "viciously" insists on placing it's trust in anything BUT Christ.

The fact that the Lutherans placed the Image of God and Original Righeousness and both Parts of Original Sin as being about faith is what separates Lutherans fundamentally from both Rome and the neo-scholasticism of the Reformed. How?

The return to righteousness and the Image of God does not find it's Telos in a reconformity to the Law!

There is more:

In art III and IV on "justification" and "love and the fulfilling of the Law" this idea is continued.

Here you will read the argumentative thread that the Law of God was written in the Reason of ALL men, even those without bibles (rom 2:15). This is why reason agrees with the Decalog. It is the SAME Law. And Lutherans here Go so far as to say then that nothing more can be demanded of morality than the ethics of Aristotle. So Lutherans say that pagans , without bibles, are fully able to know and do the Law of God in an outward sense.

But then they say that the Law is not written in the hearts of men. it is regeneration that allows the Law to be written in the hearts of man once again (ap art III). And note that this writing of the Law in the heart is not the restoration of original righeousness or the Image of God, rather it is a fruit of that restoration which is alone, again, faith alone, in Christ alone.

I would be most interested to continue a discussion on this with you dear brother in Christ.

I am thinking that no one had pointed you before to this part of the Lutheran Confessions to see that , indeed, there is an official Lutheran position on all of this.

Jordan Cooper said...

Frank, I have read this part of the Lutheran Confessions, though I am not as well versed in the Apology as I am in the other Confessional documents. This, however, does not address the specific issue that I was dealing with in the post.

Frank Sonnek said...

Well, I suggest that it does directly address what you wrote:

1) "many Lutherans say that Adam was saved by grace through faith before the fall". Of course this is wrong. But what is "lutheran' is what the Confessions say.

So you are basing a discussion on a strawman this means. NO truly Lutheran theologian would assert this. It is absolutely destroying of the heart of Lutheran Theology.

This is because we do not suffer from the effects of the "quis' subscription the Reformed have to their confessions. Specifically: What is "reformed" doctrine? It depends on who you read that is interpreting it.

So having set up this strawman then you proceed to move things in the Neo-scholastic Reformed who really returned to Rome exactly on this point. How? You seem (correct me if I am wrong here!) to assume that Adamic Image of God and Original Righeousness = Adamic conformity to the Law of God. That the Telos of Man is conformity to the Law of God (cf Thomist Scholasticism and Augustine).. You seem to make that movement here:

"grace is the unmerited favor of God...not something infused into the soul". and... "legal definition of grace"...

The confessions say that, in fact, Justification is forensically declared, but also is creatively infused in New Man. The entire point of the argument in Apology art III and IV is that the New Man receives 'new heart movements" and is "made" (read infused) holy and justified and sinless. The declared (forensic) Word of God does, in fact, what it declares forensically.

What the Reformed miss here is the Lutheran Two Kingdoms distinction between New Man and Old Adam within the believer found in FC art VI titled "The [Lutheran] Third Use of the Law". They therefore turn "sanctification" into the same aristotelian practice-virtue-until-it-becomes-habit that the scholastics taught as "preparation for grace." Same teaching. Only the Reformed place this bit of paganism as a result of justification rather than preparation for it. Thomist Scholasticism meets Neo-scholasticism of Calvin.

To say that Justification is not "infused" is simply not Lutheran doctrine. This is not true for the New Man insofar as the Believer is regenerated. And it is completely false regarding the Old Adam that is ALL that the believer can see and do in his body, will, and soul (FC art I).

Frank Sonnek said...

Then your answering of objections:

This misses the Lutheran Two Kingdoms teaching: God's eternal will is to have Fatherly Goodness and Mercy happen among men. He does this in two ways. In the earthly kingdom that includes ALL we can see and do in our bodies God extorts this out of ALL men by the Law. In the kingdom of Grace, God creates, ex-nihilo, a New Man from which Goodness and Mercy simply and spontaeously happens because this Goodness and Mercy is infused in New Man as a fruit of the Adamic Faith in Christ that is restored in New Man.

The problem here I am suggesting is that rather than following the Lutheran argumentative thread in it's logical progression, instead you have taken the Reformed argumentative outline and adapted it to look Lutheran. In doing this, I suggest you miss the Lutheran foundational arguments. You start with Reformed premises and outlines and make them Lutheran. Start with the Confessions, especially the Apology. I know it is dense. But you will end up seeing things differently. It is an entirely different orientation. Forgive my wording where I am failing to convey the point I am making.

Objection 2 is the heart of the Problem. It places man's Telos as being the Law. This is classic Scholasticism that is pagan aristotle reworked. It is wrong. And it is a poison that is the genesis of all Reformed error. Again: The Image of God and Original Righeousness is and was ALONE faith alone in Christ alone. The Law written in the heart (jer 33, apology III) is a consequence or fruit of this Telos. It is not the Telos of man. Only Faith in Christ, which is the Person of Christ is man's telos. And this Telos is FULLY realized , insofar as man is regenerated, in the waters of Holy Baptism.


argument 3. again the reformed ask the wrong questions, on a law basis, and so arrive at the wrong destination. Lutherans will get the same result if they start with the Reformed questions. Adam had faith in Christ and lacked concupiscence which was faith in anything BUT christ. And so the fruit of that was that he simply was, existentially, the incarnation of fatherly Goodness and Mercy. This is not about grace or the Law. this is about faith. The reformed do not understand Law and Gospel distinction and distort it into imperative/indicative because they do not see how the Two Kingdoms doctrine IS Law and Gospel.

In summary, I suggest that you are starting with a Reformed infrastructure and then try to hang Lutheran doctrines on that skeleton or outline. Better to start with the Apology. Then you will see that the Reformed doctrine is really just rehashed Roman Catholic Scholasticism.

Frank Sonnek said...

I am suggesting that the Reformed have a Law paradym. The Telos of mankind is to be reconformed to the Will of God which is revealed in the Law of God.

And so the Gospel is really a servant or vehicle to return mankind to the Sovreign Will of God found in conformity to the Law.

Lutherans, in contrast say that the Telos of mankind is revealed, alone , in Christ , and the restoration of our relationship to him is the Telos that is found alone in faith alone, apart from any doing of the Law. And when faith is restored, then there is no longer a need for the preaching of Law OR Gospel (FC VI), for faith results in the doing of the goodness and mercy that is the Eternal Will of God as sun produces light.

I hope this helps somewhat to show what my concerns are with what you wrote dear brother.

thanks for your patience and kindly reading of what I am trying to present.

Jordan Cooper said...

This is not a straw man but is addressing a comment I heard from a Concordia Seminary professor. I wouldn't argue against a position that no one holds. That is pointless.

I don't think that the telos of man is conformity to God's law, but loving fellowship with God through Christ.

The statement that grace is the "unmerited favor of God" rather than something infused into the soul is and has been a huge distinction between Reformation and Roman views of the term. Chemnitz treats this, as do many of the Lutheran scholastics and modern Confessional theologians.

This does not mean that justification doesn't have real effects in the soul. I affirm that justification is a verdict that enacts what it says. This is not what I was talking about.

Frank Sonnek said...

can you point me to what that concordia sem professor said? which professor was it? is the article or book he wrote online? or is it something you heard in a lecture?

are you sure you this is what he meant in context. it seems really really a strange thing to say...

Frank Sonnek said...

i commented on another post of yours here. I would be interested in hearing your feedback. thanks!