The Incarnation Apart From Sin?
April 14, 2015
Christological supralapsarianism can take on a variety of forms. In connection with this doctrine, I would like to address whether the Son would have become incarnate if Adam had not fallen (Cur Deus homo si Adam non pecasset?). Reformed theologians have asked what reward Adam would have received if he did not fall (and have disagreed on the answer), so I do not think it is inappropriate to ask whether that reward would have included a sight of the God-man.
Those affirming the view above have a fairly inauspicious history of theologians joining with them, whose names begin with "S": Scotus, Suarez, Servetus, Socinus, and Schleiermacher (and oh-Siander). With company like that, well...there's always Cardinal Bellarmine for the other side to even things out. Of course, a material similarity does not necessitate a formal similarity, o lovers of Republication! In fact, my position doesn't quite follow the arguments put forth by the aforementioned theologians and heretics.
The fightback against this medieval "chimera" is well documented, especially by Reformed theologians. Calvin argued that the question involves unnecessary speculation (Institutes, 2.xii.5). G.C. Berkouwer seems decidedly unhappy with the idea because speculation tends to move us away from what actually happened (which is really what matters). The supralapsarian, Thomas Goodwin, did not want to address the question of whether the Son would have become incarnate if Adam had not sinned, even though he was prepared to say: "Christ did not come into the world for us, but we came into the world for Christ," which is a form of Christological supralapsarianism.
We can look at this question from our perspective as well as the perspective of the Father. In this post I want to focus primarily on the reasons "from below" more so than the reasons "from above."
Did God will (understood in terms of "divine permission") the Fall - a sort of felix culpa - in order to achieve the greater good of sending his Son to redeem sinners? I doubt it. If the Son became incarnate as a response to the entrance of sin, Christ becomes, as it were, an "accidental identity" (so David Bentley Hart).
The Son (as theanthropos) must be at the centre of God's creating purposes, not simply his redeeming purposes. The creation of the world exists for the sake of the Son, otherwise we can make no sense of Colossians 1:16, which has in view the Son as God-man (i.e., Christ), not the Son simpliciter. Hence, Adam and Eve were created for Christ and by Christ.
Salvation from sin is not the highest end for humanity. That view conceives of the purposes of God too negatively. Rather, the highest end for humanity is uninterrupted (eternal) communion with God. However, in order to enjoy the fullest and highest blessings of communion with the triune God, we need to be glorified. Because of the Creator-creature distinction, God must nevertheless condescend before we can "ascend." The incarnation provides the only way God can have perpetual, unimpeded communion with man whereby man lacks nothing in terms of his ability to fully enjoy and know God because man is now Spirit-filled by the Spirit of Christ (Rom. 8:9).
Adam was without sin, but that does not mean he was perfect; nor in the Garden did he reach glorification. Even Christ eventually reached "perfection" ("and once made perfect") in his high priestly role and awaited glorification (Jn. 17:5; Heb. 2:10; 5:9). Adam was naked in Eden. He was not yet clothed as he needed to be. The Son is clothed in the flesh of humanity. This formerly "weak" flesh is now glorified flesh (Rom. 1:4). We reach this same destiny when we are given new "clothing" in Christ (resurrected bodies, 1 Jn. 3:2; cf. Rom. 5:15-17).
I do not believe Adam could have gained for humanity what Christ was able to gain. He simply could not merit anything from God, much less could he merit the same blessings as Christ was able to merit as the God-man. Our union with the God-man brings us into a state far greater than what would have happened if Adam did not sin. The incarnation adds an incredible and immense dignity to our nature. Moreover, our adoption is on a higher level, for we are united to the God-man, not just a man. In Eden, Adam was a son indeed, per gratiam creationis, but not a son per gratiam adoptionis, that is, not in Christo, vel per Christum.
Adam's personal sonship required development, just as Christ's own mediatorial sonship required development. Jesus, who was "for a little while" lower than the heavenly beings, is now superior to them in every way and for all eternity (Heb. 1-2). Adam desired from God what he was not yet ready for concerning the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Christ, however, remained patient, eagerly desiring the gift of the Father according to the timing and promise of the Father. Christ did not snatch his bride, but waited for his reward.
What does this all mean? Very simply, God's intention for humanity could only ever be fully realized through the incarnation. Why did God create humanity? To bring into being a bride for his Son, who would assume a human nature. This was best realized in the incarnation where God made it possible for us to commune with him in and through Christ alone by the Spirit.
Christ is not only God's reaction to sin. Sin did not necessitate the incarnation. True, things were made more difficult for the Son and for us as a result of sin, but God's basic telos has not been altered. The king of creation, to whom creation would bow, could not ultimately have been Adam. It had to be Christ. Christ, the heavenly man, makes possible what was ontologically impossible for the earthly man (1 Cor. 15:49). Full rights of eternal sonship must come through the eternal Son, not the temporary son (Adam), who was of the dust. Union with the God-man must be eternal because God hates divorce and cannot allow himself to be implicated in a divorce, which would be the case if something were to separate us from his love in Christ. Because of the incarnation, we truly belong to the same family of God when we are in Christ.
So, however it would have happened, the Son would still have become incarnate, ruled over creation, and brought about the possibility of full communion with the Father through the Spirit. As van Driel says in his book, Incarnation Anyway, attempting to respond to the charge that this view is overly speculative:
"I ask about the incarnation as it happened, about the Christ as we have him; and my point is that the incarnation as it happened gives us so much, is so rich in gifts of divine friendship and intimacy, that it cannot be explained as only a divine countermeasure against sin. There is no speculation here about a hypothetical situation; there is no discontent with the Christ as he is; rather, I am so impressed with the Christ as he is that I argue that the category of redemption is not rich enough to explain the wonder of his presence" (pp. 164-65).
In a nutshell, we are able to reject the "felix culpa" argument (so Schleiermacher) and also move away from unnecessary speculation based on this model. We give Christ the priority in all things (Col. 1:16), and we rejoice that God has always desired to bring us into communion with himself through the Son, who was always destined to be the man of the Spirit, par excellence, so that we could likewise be people of the Spirit in the fullest measure possible (i.e., maturity). This is something only Christ could give us, and not Adam.
Perhaps most importantly, the incarnation gives us the highest blessing possible: the beatific vision. We see the face of God in the man, Christ Jesus (Col. 1:15; 2 Cor. 3:18, 4:6; 1 Jn. 3:2). We behold God's glory in the God-man (Jn. 14:9). Apart from the incarnation, we would be without this great blessing. But the incarnation gives us a sight of God that Adam could never have attained to.
Thus the incarnation best displays God's love for humanity, by gifting us with the greatest gift possible: sight and enjoyment of the God-man. To think that we would have missed out on this if Adam had not sinned makes little theological sense to me. Indeed, it makes little sense that a loving God towards his creatures would withhold from them the greatest blessing he can give to them: an ocular, not just intellectual, sight of God in the flesh.
While Goodwin does not wish to speculate on the incarnation (anyway) as the medieval schoolmen did, he does make an important point worthy of our consideration as we wrestle with this question:
"Whereas to bring [Christ] into the world only upon occasion of man's sin, and for the work of redemption, were to subject Christ to us...Whereas he is the end of us, and of all other things. This were also to have the person ordained for the benefits (such as redemption)..., which are all far inferior to the gift of his person unto us, and much more the glory of his person itself. His person is of infinite more worth than they all can be of."
Therefore, to acknowledge the pre-eminence of the gift of Christ's person over his work might be the first step to acknowledging that perhaps the Son would have become incarnate even if Adam did not sin. If there was no incarnation, the universe would be without its crowning glory. The man that God most delights in is the man, Christ Jesus (Isa. 42:1; 1 Tim. 2:5) - one of the arguments "from above".
Those who dealt with this question and rejected the position of incarnation apart from sin (see Johannes Hoornbeeck, Socinianismus Confutatus, II.253) usually point to the plethora of passages which speak of Christ coming into the world to deal with sin (e.g., 1 Tim. 1:15). Of course this is true, though there are certain types of "ends" that would have to be addressed before the case becomes a slam dunk. But just because Christ came to save sinners does not mean he wouldn't have come if there was no sin. The force of habitual interpretation may explain why some assume that if Christ came to save sinners then he wouldn't have come if there were no sin.
Finally, all of the arguments I have read against Christological supralapsarianism - the type I have advanced - haven't actually dealt with the issue of the ocular beatific vision. That is, I think, a major plus for the S-men, though I can't recall any of them actually making that specific argument. Had they, I wonder whether the reaction against their position would have been so vigorous.
Pastor Mark Jones has nothing to hide, and, like Steve Biko, writes what he likes. (*A special sign-off for a special student and his special professor at a special seminary).