Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Crucified with Christ - Really

I've been trying to think through the ways in which the Reformed doctrine of penal atonement (which I affirm) can be worked into Augustine's understanding of justification. Below is a preliminary attempt...

Perhaps Augustine’s realism (the belief that particulars share a common nature, which itself exists independent of the particulars), seen most clearly in his doctrine of original sin (explained below- so keep reading if you're already lost) when blended with the Reformed doctrine of atonement, can result in a non-substitutionary penal atonement. In other words, just as we (at least I) embrace Augustine’s realistic union between Adam and his posterity regarding original sin and justification, perhaps it is also possible to embrace a realistic union between Christ and the Christian regarding crucifixion and resurrection.

For Augustine (as well as Edwards) the sin of Adam’s descendants is rightfully their own in that they were realistically “in Adam” when he sinned. Thus Adam’s sin is truly and morally theirs by right. (It's like Levi paying tithes to Melchizedeck while still in Abe's loins.) In the same way then, I would suggest that it is possible for the believer to be realistically present “in Christ” when he died and rose again (Romans 6:1-16). Thus, in keeping with Paul’s statements about the believer’s union with Christ's crucifixion(Romans 6:8, Colossians 2:20, 3:3, Galatians 2:20), Christ is not simply punished in our place, but we are realistically “crucified with/in Him.”

Thus in a realistic sense we can be said to have paid the penalty for our sin, for we were in Christ when he suffered and died. Christ’s suffering is really our own, just as Adam’s sin is really our own. In this way, the atonement is penal but not vicarious – it is a realistic penal atonement based upon our union with Christ.

Of course it might be wondered as to how we could be realistically present in Christ’s death prior to our individual existence. In light of this concern, I would suggest, following the basic logic of Augustine’ realism in original sin, that culpability of essence is determined by one’s participation in a culpable essence. Just as we become personally culpable due our participation in Adam’s essence, so too we become personally crucified through our participation in Christ’s essence via the Holy Spirit. Thus when God looks at us, he sees in us the crucified/risen life of Christ – not just legally, but essentially.

Thus as Paul wrote, it is no longer we who live, but Christ who lives in us (Galatians 2:20). With the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and our essential union with Christ, the believer now lives by virtue of the crucified life. Thus a realistic union with Christ via the Holy Spirit serves a two fold purpose: first, the believer is grafted realistically into the death of Christ whereby volitional culpability is eliminated, and secondly, the believer is grafted realistically into Christ’s resurrection whereby he is regenerated and the sure process of essential healing is begun.

It's still sketchy, but I think that dog will hunt...


CrnbrdEater said...

"the dog will hunt." I am unfamiliar with this concept. Perhaps an arcane seminary term reserved for highly technical work? This is why I stick to simple things like NP-Hard Algorithmics.

The one difficulty I have with your theory is that if we are all automatically condemned by being present at the original sin wouldn't we, by the same logic, not all be automatically justified by being present at Christ's death (and resurrection)?

I may have missed a simple step of logic. Please break my fall before things get out of hand.

Gerald said...


The differnce is this: we are all naturally "in Adam" but we are supernaturally grafted into Christ, through the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. It is an act of supernatural grace. Thus only those who are "in Christ" participate in the crucified life and can be said to have been realistically crucified with Christ. In this way our identity (ontological, not merely legal)is linked to Christ's.

CrnbrdEater said...

To accept this view you would also have to accept unconditional election and irresistible grace. For a person, not yet in existence, to be "supernaturally grafted" with Christ at His death implies they were chosen in well in advance of their birth. These would have no choice in their own salvation because if they had a choice there would remain the chance they would not accept the salvation they were preemptively grafted into.

Gerald said...

Not necessarily. I don’t think that what I’m saying here has any direct bearing on the election question (though I am an Augustinian and agree with the doctrine of unconditional election and infallible grace (not irresistible – but that’s another post). Our participation in his crucifixion would be retroactive – not preemptive. We are considered to be crucified because the life by which we live (his life) is a crucified life –gained through the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit who allows us to participate in (share?) the ontology of Christ – who himself was crucified. It would be similar to receiving the “heart of flesh” promised in the New Covenant. The old heart is taken away the new heart is given. Similarly, the old life is taken a way and the new life – the crucified and risen life- is given in it’s place.

To be honest though, I’m not entirely sure where my whole idea of a realistic union with Christ in his crucifixion gets us. I suppose I like the idea in that it highlights the essential connection between Christ and the Christian, and the parallel is really tight regarding our union with Christ in his resurrection. But it’s a bit speculative and pretty abstract. Not real sure yet how much practical use it might serve.

Canadian Calvinist said...

It's wierd joining a discussion that is a year and a half old!

In this scheme, would it not follow that the way we "participate" in His crucifixion and resurrection then at baptism? This is how Romans 6 seems to sound...that we are buried with Him in baptism, etc. Augustine believed that baptism (with faith) washed away Original Sin. Baptism really does something, he seems to say. (I am playing the burr under my own Protestant saddle here).

Gerald said...


Yes, this is my understanding of Augustine's baptismal theology as well. Of course, not even all Catholics agree with everything Augustine said, so how much less must we as Protestants :-).

It does seem clear from Scripture however, that water baptism and justification are very closely linked--much more than is usually found in my evangelical tradition. In as much as water baptism is the "covenant sign" of the New Covenant (as circumcision was of the Old) then in makes sense that Paul would speak of our dying and rising with Christ in the context of the water baptism. Water baptism symbolizes/signifies justification.

However, we shouldn't forget that in Acts 10:4-48 Cornelius and his household recieved the Spirit and spoke in tongues prior to thier baptism--which immediately followed.