Tuesday, November 19, 2019

A comment on DeYoung on impeccability

I do not recall having read Kevin DeYoung, even though I know he is something of a celebrity. It’s nothing personal, I just never had an occasion. But I followed a tweet from someone I admire very much (I hope they will not be upset with me for disagreeing) who recommended DeYoung’s primer on impeccability.

If you don’t know, the Impeccability of Christ is the doctrine that not only did Jesus not sin, he was, even in his human nature, utterly incapable of sinning. As you'll see, I disagree with this doctrine.

Young’s primer begins this way:
Christ’s impeccability has been widely affirmed throughout the history of the church and defended by most of the leading Reformed systematicians. 
Fair enough, although I grow weary of this type of argument. I often wonder why theologians who make this type of argument even bother to be theologians. The argument (from authority) amounts to this: we don’t need to do theology, just history, because the theologians of the past got everything right. I can’t recall the last time I read a discussion from my camp (the Reformed camp) that used only scripture and not an appeal to dead theologians. (Though not a theologian, I am also guilty of this, as in the appendix below. Pot. Kettle. Black.)

Now that is just a nit. What really disturbs me is when DeYoung turns to scripture, beginning a defense of the doctrine with the bold heading: First, Christ’s impeccability can be deduced from Scripture.
If Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever (Heb. 13:8), he must be unchanging in his holiness.
It's that blasted immutability again. So many arguments of the attributes of God are based on immutability. But nobody ever seems to stop and ask: do we have that doctrine right? We keep using that word; are we sure it means what we think it means? (If you know me you know that I am not denying God’s immutability. I’m questioning the tacit claim, and the basis of many arguments, that of all the attributes of God, the only one we have really nailed, with no possibility of error, is immutability. Further, it is the only perfectly commutable attribute. Immutability means exactly the same thing for God as it does for man, even though only one of these is also transcendent.)

Think how much weight DeYoung is putting on Heb 13:8 to establish Immutability with a capital ‘I’. If you read Hebrews 13 in its entirety, I think you’ll agree that the topic being discussed is the consistency of the Gospel message. The writer is not injecting, in a discourse that spans from hospitality to the submission to leaders, a one-verse definitive theological teaching on the doctrine of immutability beyond assuring his readers that the Gospel message has not and will not change. This  is  proof by isolated verse proof-texting. And it was all so unnecessary. DeYoung’s conclusion from his misuse of Heb 13:8, that Christ has an unchanging holiness—this we all would accept as an ansatz.

DeYoung then writes:
A mutable holiness would be inconsistent with the omnipotence of Christ and irreconcilable with the fact that Christ is the author and finisher of our faith (Heb. 12:2).
This is perhaps where, rightly or wrongly, my training as a scientist takes offence. In my discipline an uncategorical statement such as this requires proof. We do not accept proof by assertion. Skipping the question (because I do not see the relevance) of the inconsistency with omnipotence, I think that a much more defensible (and sufficient) statement is this: if Christ’s holiness mutated, because he sinned, then he could not save himself let alone be the author and finisher of our faith.

DeYoung continues:
Christ is unlike the first Adam in that he is the fountain of all holiness, and from him can proceed nothing but life and light.
Okay, that is a nice theological platitude. But I do not see the relevance. Moving on:
If Christ were able to sin, his holiness would, by definition, be open to change—his obedience open to failure—even if Christ proved in the end to be faithful.
I agree with all of this.

Then the section’s conclusion:
A peccable Christ is a Savior who can be trusted only in hindsight.
This misses the boat. We do not have to trust Christ in hindsight. We know from infallible scripture that he Did. Not. Sin. That is the only relevant fact. No trust is required in regards to the incarnate Christ's sinlessness. (As a counter-example, we trust he will return as promised. ) We need not concern ourselves with the theoretical possibility that Christ might have sinned and ruined everything. Because he didn’t. Game over, man. The good team won.

I don’t think the rest of DeYoung’s argument gets any better 1, but I do not have the time to go through it line by line. Judge for yourself. However, I will comment on one analogy that DeYoung makes is his section entitled: Third, impeccability is consistent with temptation. Here he is trying to dismiss the reasonable argument that a Christ unable to sin renders the temptations of Christ, those very experiences that allow him to sympathize with our plight, meaningless. He uses this analogy:
Christ’s inability to sin does not make his temptations less genuine. The army that cannot be conquered can still be attacked.
That is, in my view, a bad analogy. An impeccable Christ is much more than an army that cannot be conquered. It is an army that cannot, even in principle, suffer even the slightest of casualties. That makes it an army that cannot in any meaningful way be attacked. I would say that we (the elect), along with the incarnate Christ, we all are armies that cannot be conquered. Christ, however, was the only one that withstood every attack while sustaining zero casualties. The rest of us leave in our wake utter carnage. But still, we will not be conquered.


Just a couple of Reformed theologians who disagree with the doctrine of impeccability:
“This sinlessness of our Lord, however, does not amount to absolute impeccability. It was not a non potest peccare. If He was a true man He must have been capable of sinning. That He did not sin under the greatest provocation; that when He was reviled He blessed; when He suffered He threatened not; that He was dumb, as a sheep before its shearers, is held up to us as an example. Temptation implies the possibility of sin. If from the constitution of his person it was impossible for Christ to sin, then his temptation was unreal and without effect, and He cannot sympathize with his people.” Charles Hodges, Systematic Theology, III.iv.2.2  
I may be wrong 2, but I think it is wrong to believe that Christ’s divine nature made it impossible for his human nature to sin. If that were the case, the temptation, the tests, and his assuming of the responsibility of the first Adam would have all been charades. This position protects the integrity of the authenticity of the human nature because it was the human nature that carried out the mission of the second Adam on our behalf. It was the human nature uniquely anointed beyond measure by the Holy Spirit. (R. C. Sproul)  

1 In fact, I think it gets worse, that is it gets even more abstract and Aristotelian.

2 Thank you RC. Imagine, a theologian who actually begins a discussion with “I may be wrong.” You simply do not hear that anymore. It doesn’t just speak to Sproul’s humility—it is tacit acknowledgement that this is not a cardinal doctrine; disagreement does not imply (as I have, at times, been warned) heresy.

No comments:

Post a Comment