Thursday, November 3, 2005

The Pattern of Atonement -- a review

[from my Amazon review]

This short series of lectures by the English philosopher, H.A. Hodges, offer a pleasant jaunt through the thickets of (almost exclusively Western) soteriology. As a philosopher, Hodges's prose and expression was refreshingly lucid and precise. (It was also kind of funny for me imagining hearing an English philosopher lecture on this subject today, let alone with such personal ardor.) But as a lecturer, transcribing spoken notes, I was annoyed more than once to see quotes without citations, thus crippling my exploration of this or that other thinker's words. Hodges embodies the Anglican via media in his lectures, "neither too hot nor too cold." For example, he cites St. John of the Cross on the divinizing "mystical union" (theopoiesis) that is true Christian faith; and then cites Calvin and Luther on the cognitive, personal immediacy of "saving faith" which Catholic (and Orthodox) theology tends to muffle. He cites the Anglican articles with approval … only later to forego commenting on one of its "bewildering" articles (#27). :o)

This book was a gift to me (via mail) from a Byzantine Catholic history professor; he described it as an irenic outline of the biblical atonement -- "but it has teeth". For, while Hodges takes fault Trent with "a certain confusion of terms", he does ultimately argue the Tridentine formulation is superior to any Reformed theory of soteriology. Of course, balnced as he is in the (chimerical) via media, Hodges is right to admit the more extreme doctrines of radical justification by faith alone, doctrines which collapse salvation into justification and “the rest” into “pious comforts”, are not truly representative of Protestant life; the Protestant sensus fidelium has a remarkable tendency to act as if Trent were right and salvation is not “complete” or “assured” without serious growth in holiness.

Nevertheless (via media again!) since he has worries about the efficacy of infant baptism (IB) and how it negates (for him) the absolute biblical need for *personal faith* on the part of the baptized, he argues from Calvin that the only meaningful basis for IB is its status as a pledge (and expected promise) into which the child must grow. I found this strange for two reasons. First, Hodges’s final thought is a suggestion that Catholic sacramentology realizes the Reformed emphasis on God’s absolute, “preemptive” sovereignty (apart form our efforts) perhaps better, and certainly no worse, than Reformed theology itself. Hence, while Hodges does grant Baptism, in some fashion, genuinely incorporates even children into Christ, I was surprised and disappointed he didn’t “try harder” to justify (no pun intended) IB from the perspective of God’s sacramental sovereignty.

Second, I felt Hodges dodged all too easily the idea that the child is imbued with faith, hope and love (by Baptism) *on account of his family’s/community’s faith*. In this, Hodge let his individualist-personalized Protestant biases show, which extremely frustrating in an otherwise very balanced work.

Is it really so bizarre or “unbiblical” to believe God recreates us as monergistically (as in IB) as He did/does as in creation? Is it so unbiblical to believe baptism, the new circumcision (Col 2:11-12), can and is applied as “impersonally” as the old?

Is it so unbiblical to believe baptism, as the water supporting the new ark of salvation (1 Pet 3:20-21), applies just as well to babies now as Noah’s ark saved babies (and animals!) that were brought into it then?

Is it really so incredible the waters of baptism save babies now just as well as the divided waters of Moses saved infants out of Egypt then?

Is it so unbiblical to believe God receives us best into His Kingdom when we enter just as the little children met Jesus (ie., were CARRIED BY OTHERS to Him; Lk 18:15-16)?

Is it so unbiblical to believe others’ faith may “substituted” for our own when we realize this is precisely how the paralytic lowered on the mat was healed (ie., when Jesus his FRIEND’S faith; Mth 9:2)?

Is it really so unbiblical to believe even the most synergistically accepted, personalistically embraced adult baptism is itself but an adoption and endowment conditioned by our synergistic efforts in holiness (cf. Rom 6)?

Is it really so “un-Pauline” to believe the community’s faith extends to, supports and even generates our own “personal faith” when St. Paul wrote of baptism (in plural Greek) to whole faith communities? Indeed, an action of the Christian community is fundamentally an action of Christ working and being formed in it (cf. I Cor 12:6; Php 2:13; Gal 4:19, 1 Thes 2:13; etc.).

Baptism is the death of our old nature and the birth in us of a new nature – the death of Old Adam and the birth in us of New Adam – and the last I checked, when a family dies (in a fire, a car crash, etc.), it matters little that the children didn’t “choose” to drive. Baptism is a death and death is any equal opportunity “consumer,” regardless of age, nationality or maturity level. So is Baptism, but a consumer of death and a "recycler" into life.

I dwell on this point so lengthily because, as I said, Hodges recalcitrance about what I shall call “suprapersonal faith” was a real low spot in _The Pattern of Atonement_ and needs to be addressed.

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