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Federal view of imputation

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  • Ben Hart
    Here are two quick questions about how I understand the federal view of imputation. Both the Reformed doctrines of original sin and substitutionary
    Message 1 of 34 , May 28, 2009
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      Here are two quick questions about how I understand the "federal view" of imputation.  Both the Reformed doctrines of original sin and substitutionary atonement make use of this idea so our understanding of two of the most fundamental Christian doctrines stand on how we view this idea of imputation.

      My question is directed specifically at how imputation works in the doctrine of original sin.  According to the federal view, Adam was the representative of all of mankind in an analogous way that a president is a representative of his country; hence the talk of Adam as a "prince" of sorts.  As our representative, God made a deal with Adam--the covenant of works--according to which, if Adam obeyed one rule he'd live a life of eternal bliss, and if he disobeyed, he'd inherit death for himself and for all of us.  So when he disobeyed God, he did so on behalf of all of us, and we have Adams guilt and punishment "laid to our account" (whatever that means--when I'm born, is God like a heavenly bank-teller who opens up my moral account and puts me in the inifinite debit column? Anyway...) 

      So if that is the right way to understand things, then we have conclusive evidence that Adam is in hell, and here's why--we are still condemned in him.  See, if Adam repented (looking forward to the future Christ, the same situation we think OT believers were in) then as our representative, we should have had his good act of repentance laid to our account, since he is, after all, our representative. 

      So do we have evidence that Adam never repented?  If so, I think we have good reason to reject the federal view of imputation. 

      Here's another reason to reject the view.

      The federal view rests on a false analogy between an elected head and a "natural" or "generic" head.  One reason we might think the represented people have the guilt of their representor laid to their account is because they've duly authorized them to be their agent.  Not so with us and Adam.  We weren't around to do so, making him an unauthorized representor.  God, no doubt, could have authorized him to "represent" us in some sense, but not in the sense the federal view wants to say he represented us. 

      I doubt these are new arguments, but I thought some of you have given these some consideration and wanted to know what (if anything) you all thought was wrong with this way of thinking. 

      -Ben
    • puritanone
      ... I reject that imputation and inheritance are foreign to our normal experience and practice. Actually, it is quite common in the parent-child relationship,
      Message 34 of 34 , Jul 6, 2009
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        > 2. I posed objection two as a difficulty in squaring the whole idea of
        > imputation with how we typically understand justice. My argument was that
        > we normally don't work things like that in our everyday holdings of people
        > morally responsible. I mean how often do we allow a deal people made
        > thousands of years ago to affect our moral standing with another party? How
        > often do we allow it that the good or bad merit of others can be made over
        > to ourselves? How often do we allow an innocent to be executed for the
        > guilty? These are extremely counterintuitive and go directly against almost
        > all of our moral practices, yet they stand at the heart of the Reformed
        > understanding of the Gospel.
        >


        I reject that imputation and inheritance are foreign to our normal experience and practice. Actually, it is quite common in the parent-child relationship, so it should not be at all surprising in the Adam-mankind and Jesus-adopted children relationships.


        Just some examples:

        1. Children who are born to rich parents are born rich; children who are born to poor parents are born poor.

        2. Children who are born to mortal parents will be mortal.

        3. Children often inherit the genetic diseases of their parents. Children of parents with healthy genes inherit those genes.

        4. The children of terrorist parents are more subject to have their house (along with themselves) blown up. (What is it like to be born the child of an Al Qaeda leader? Does the US military really have to wait until the wife and children are out before destroying the house in which a terrorist leader is residing? Do you think that the US military waits until everyone is out except the terrorist leader?)

        5. Rich parents buy their children presents which the children never worked for; penniless parents can buy their children nothing.

        6. Rich parents often open up a bank account for their children and put money in it for the children (a form of imputation), even though the children never earned it. Penniless parents do not do the same.

        7. When a rich couple walks through an orphanage and selects a child, upon adoption that child is immediately rich, even though the child did no more to earn it than the next child that never gets adopted.

        8. Parents are under no moral requirement to lay up money to the children of other parents, but they should lay up for their own children, "for the children ought not to lay up for the parents, but the parents for the children." But their own children did not do some special work to receive this blessing.


        Imputation and inheritance are alive and well in the real world we live and act in. We are very familiar with it in our moral practices. But some people try to suppress the truth in unrighteousness.

        - J. Parnell McCarter
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