Billings Defends The Reformed Tradition on an Exalted Humanity

In keeping with my work on the ‘Vicarious Humanity of Christ,’ in particular within Reformed theology—but also reaching back into PaleoChristianity—J. Todd Billings provides a great synopsis and call for word of caution relative to how Reformed theology has been so often caricatured. How many times have you said, or how many times have you heard others say that Calvinism presents us with a view of humanity that is hard, rigid, deterministic; and really with a view wherein there remains no longer a place for real humanity to be real humanity? Usually the premise behind this musing is that the definitive piece that defines what real humanity is, is the component of ‘free-will’. The conjecture is that if someone doesn’t have Libertarian deliberative individualistic free-will; then this demands that any such view (that articulates anything less) provides us with a sub-human view of humanity in general. This is the kind of stuff that J. Todd Billings seeks to correct (in the section that he is working through in his book) in the following quote:

Contrary to the frequent caricatures of Reformed theology in which God is seen as diametrically opposed to humanity, Calvin and the mainstream Reformed tradition follow this Augustinian line of thought in claiming that true humanity is humanity in communion with God. Therefore, as a consequence of the example from Augustine, emphasizing divine agency does not mean diminishing or demeaning the human. Saying that redemption is 100 percent empowered by God does not mean that humanity is belittled to nothingness. No. Instead, full deity and full humanity belong together in communion. Thus an action performed “by the Spirit” is an activation of our human faculties, not a diminishment of them. [J. Todd Billings, Union With Christ: Reframing Theology and Ministry for the Church, (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 2011), 43]

Do you still think that the Reformed tradition belittles humanity? In what sense? The obvious premise that the above flows from is one that the Scotist thesis (which Calvin was, ‘Scotist’) has articulated; viz. that the ‘purpose’ of creation, and humanity has always been to be in union and thus communion with God. And the purpose of the Father’s love has always already been for his Son and consummated by the Spirit. We participate and find our bearing for who we were created to be, in and only through the recreated humanity of the Son. If we are going to be truly human, then we must be inside the purposes of God for his creation. If the purposes of God for creation are only realized in the Son’s humanity for us; then we must be participants in the Son’s humanity if we are truly going to operate at a maximal human level. This seems to be an implication and exposition of what Billings is getting at in his opening statement (of which he will be developing as I read on) above.

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