Of Adamites and Aromas
A couple of months ago we looked at the antithesis that characterizes all of mankind. It is crucial to remember that God has sovereignly determined how he would relate to his creation, specifically to man. That determination includes God's unilateral and sovereign initiation of a covenant. The covenant relationship is marked, not simply by God's relationship to each person, but it is marked, first and foremost, by God's determination that each of us individually are related to God by virtue of his appointed representatives.
Many of us understand this kind of representation because we get to see it in action in the political sphere. In the United States, we elect a person, perhaps from our district or from our state, to represent us in our federal government. The term "federal" comes from a Latin word that could just as easily be understood as "covenantal." The federal government is (meant to be) representative of the various states. When we send representatives from our local habitation to the federal government, it is their job to represent their constituency at the federal level. If they veer from that responsibility, it is the job of the locals to replace their representative.
But the "federal," "covenantal" representation in Scripture does not move from the bottom up, as in a democracy. Rather, it is initiated "at the top," as it were, by the Triune God himself, and there is no democratic, or other, means to change that relationship. Nor is there a need to, since the God who initiated the process could not have made a mistake. As a matter of fact, the "federal" process is reversed in God's economy. Mankind is defined by one of two representatives -- Adam or Christ -- neither of whom are "elected" or chosen by us; rather, both are unilaterally and sovereignly appointed by God himself. Put simply, the covenantal arrangement that defines God's relationship to us is (sovereignly and graciously) imposed on us. Because of God's sovereignly administered representative government, those who are in Adam are defined, in him, according to his fallenness; similarly, those who are in Christ are defined according to his righteousness (see Rom. 5:12-21). There are no other options available in history. Since the fall, and into eternity, these are and will remain the only two covenant heads of all of mankind, and every person will be defined accordingly. This is what we call the antithesis.
But, as we saw last month, the same God who sovereignly determined the "federal" relationship, also determined, when he created Adam, that we would be made in God's image. This is our universal condition that constitutes the "bridge" between those who are in Adam and those who are in Christ. Being the image of God, all of mankind know, by God's own revealing activity, who this God is who made them. We, all of us together, know that we are meant to honor God and to give him thanks (Rom. 1:18-23). We also know that, since the fall, we have violated his character, and we know that such violations rightly place us under a death sentence (Rom. 1:32). So the two opposing covenant positions are what they are in the context of a universal and true knowledge of God and of our responsibility rightly to relate to him. The bridge that is needed to cross the breach between those who are in Adam and those who are in Christ is built by God himself. We are, and will always be, image. We can never escape our creaturehood; we can never, not even in hell, be independent of God and his covenant arrangement. What provides (in part) the two ends to the bridge is our response to this knowledge of God. Those in Adam constantly and militantly seek totally to suppress the truth that God gives; those in Christ, by grace, receive and rest in it.
So far, so good. With these truths in place, then, we should think of apologetics as "to-ing and fro-ing" on the bridge that God has built in order, on the one hand, to show how one side of the bridge is fast approaching utter decay and destruction, and then, on the other hand, to invite unbelievers to walk back over the bridge with us in order to seek to persuade them of the glorious truth of Christianity. One side of the bridge is sinking fast, and all who remain there will descend into utter destruction; the other side is being renewed daily and is in the inevitable process of becoming an eternal foundation, which will neither perish nor pass away. This is a rather "mechanical" way of explaining things, but our apologetic, generally speaking, is a movement back and forth, from one side of the bridge to the other, pointing out the rotten and molded wood on which those in Adam steadfastly determine to stand, even while we make evident the everlasting varnish of God's grace in Christ that preserves the other side of the bridge and that ensures the incorruptible glory of those who are united to Christ.
Again, so far, so good. But it has come to my attention in a recent discussion I was having about apologetic method that there remains much too much confusion about some of the specifics of this way of thinking. We can speak about the movement from one side of the bridge and back, but just exactly what does this movement look like? Is there any point in trying to reason with those who continually suppress the truth? More specifically, what can and should we say, or argue, as we make our way to and fro on that bridge?
It may be that the answers to these, and related, questions should occupy us beyond this post, but we can at least begin to lay out some basic principles that must inform our response. The first principle is this: because we are all covenant creatures, and are who we are according to our federal head, what we think, what we say, what we do has its proximate source in our covenant status. So, for example, those who remain in Adam (call them "Adamites) are characterized and animated by their sustained and sinful suppression of the truth. This means that, while every fact declares the glory of God, "Adamites" are intent on holding down the truth that God constantly gives, while wanting as well to take and know the facts themselves.
This results in a condition that is fundamentally irrational, in that it refuses to acknowledge the world (including everything in it) for what it really and truly is. But this does not mean that those who suppress the truth will totally and completely hold down all that reality presents. How could they? Because, as God's creatures made in his image, we are inextricably connected to the world God created, we cannot escape the covenant environment in which we live. Those who exchange the truth of God for a lie nevertheless take what suits them in God's creation, and attempt to reorient and redefine it according to their own depravity. So, for example, Adamites may admit that "contingency entails necessity" (Thomas' third way). This truth is virtually self-evident. The problem, however, is that "self-evidence" depends on the conditon of the "self" and what he might take to be "evident." So, an Adamite notion of "contingency" as well as of "necessity" will automatically exclude any reference to or acknowledgement of the true God (whom they know). For Adamites, "contingency" must be explained according to "natural" principles, and so also for "necessity." Whatever definition they might give it, they will not understand it in terms of God's voluntary determination to create, nor will they see necessity as having its origin the God's plan in creation.
What is needed, therefore, with respect to notions like this is a little spade work, a little digging. An appropriate apologetic question to ask in this context would be something like "on what basis can we affirm that contingency entails necessity?" Once we broach the subject of a "basis" or "foundation" for what is taken to be true, we are now challenging the Adamite view of what he takes to be true, as well as of the world and of himself. With this challenge, we are better able to move the discussion toward that which the Adamite already knows (but suppresses) -- that a true account of the world, and of man, can only be had when we acknowledge what we both, together, know, i.e., the God who made it all, and who is redeeming it all in his Son.
Alert readers will recognize that what we want to do in discussions like this is expose, in order to focus on, the presuppositions that are thought to support the pseudo-world imagined by those in Adam, as well as the presuppositions that we all know to be true (though only those in Christ, by grace, will acknowledge this). Just because those who stand on the rotten side of the bridge ignore the inevitable decay beneath them does not mean the ground is secure; it isn't. It is rotten underneath, and those in Adam know it is (Rom. 1:32). To point out that it is decaying and rotten is to tell them what they already know. It is not, then, simply one man's opinion or affirmation against another. Neither is it an attempt to stand on the decay itself; it is an attempt to show the decay for what it is, and then to show them the only foundation solid enough to support what we claim to know and believe.
Not only are we appealing to the rot and decay on which every Adamite stands, but we are, as we appeal, reasoning with them, even in their irrationality. To reason with them means that we appeal, as persuasively as possible, (1) to those things which they already accept to be true (though they also suppress and reject why they are true) and (2) to those things which they do not accept to be true, even though, because of what God has done, they know they are true. This gives us a multitude of ways to approach the irrationality that is unbelief. The ultimate truth of the matter is that in order to be who we are, to know what we do, to live in this world, the Triune God must have created and does now sustain us all. If that's the truth of the matter, then, when presented, it will be as obvious as the air that we breath, even if not acknowledged. And the wind of God's Spirit will sovereignly blow to make that air either more putrid and pungent or a sweet-smelling aroma of life (2 Cor. 2:15-16). In either case, the truth of God accomplishes its intended purpose (Is. 55:11) and, by the grace of God, our apologetic is thereby "successful."
Dr. Scott Oliphint is Professor of Apologetics and Systematic Theology at Westminster Theological Seminary. His latest book, Covenantal Apologetics (Crossway, 2013), will be released later this month.