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The Journal of Theological Studies, NS, 2010

REVIEW
Incarnation Anyway: Arguments from Supralapsarian
Christology. By EDWIN CHRISTIAN VAN DRIEL. Pp.
xii þ 194. New York: Oxford University Press, 2008.
ISBN 978 0 19 536916 8. $74.

SUPRALAPSARIANISM, the subject of Edwin Christian van Driel’s


book Incarnation Anyway (a reworked version of his doctoral
dissertation completed at Yale University), is a doctrine whose

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geneses reach back at least as far as the twelfth century, even if
van Driel’s essay is concerned with its less hypothetically spec-
ulative nineteenth- and early twentieth-century articulations.
The first part (pp. 9–124) attempts to chart and examine three
accents that supralapsarian Christology assumed in its nine-
teenth-century revival, namely in Friedrich Schleiermacher
(‘the first major supralapsarian theologian since the Middle
Ages’, p. 9), in Isaak August Dorner, and in Karl Barth, attempt-
ing in each case to attend to the ways in which God is thought to
relate to God’s other—in redemption (Schleiermacher), in crea-
tion (Dorner), and in eschatological consummation (Barth).
While there are occasions when readers may feel that van Driel
constrains his subjects’ thought with a rigid logic foreign to their
projects, in each case he attempts to expose the inner logic,
coherence, and strength of each articulation while not neglecting
to draw attention to any weaknesses.
Van Driel argues that the conceptual structure of
Schleiermacher’s supralapsarianism is determined both nega-
tively and positively by the notion of absolute dependence and
the inferred forms of divine omnipotence. He notes that, for
Schleiermacher, sin is not excluded from the scope of divine
causality—that God is the author of sin calls for a diVerent
locus for sin in the divine decree. God ordains sin in order
to make humanity receptive to redemption. This move
means that human sin acquires determining and logical
priority over the incarnation. Indeed, van Driel outlines how,
in Schleiermacher’s schema, ‘sin and redemption are essential
parts of our relationship to Christ. We need Christ because of
our sin, and only because of our sin. If there were another reason
why we relate to Christ, God would not have to introduce sin in
the divine decree. We are connected to Christ only through his

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redemptive activity. There is no space for a meaningful relation-


ship with Christ that is not marked by this’ (p. 25). Again, for
Schleiermacher, ‘human beings will not be receptive to the
divine gifts in Christ unless these gifts address an evil in their
lives’ (p. 126). Under van Driel’s examination, the identified
‘fault lines’ in Schleiermacher’s ordo salutis (especially his sym-
pathy with a felix culpa account) widen as the essay proceeds.
For Dorner, the incarnation is the necessary fruit of the divine
decision to create ethical persons and of the divine determination
that such become ‘full personalities’, a reality possible only in
‘interpersonal interaction with the ethical’ (p. 49). Dorner pre-

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misses his arguments on the notion that God is a lover of love—
the amor amoris—whose passion is to aggrandize the life of love
in God’s other. This twofold surrender (of God to human
beings, and of humans to God) is embodied in religion, the
divine contribution to which is revelation, the consummation
of which is the incarnation. For Dorner, the incarnation is a
basic implication of God’s decision to create: ‘Decisive for
whether one takes the incarnation to be means or end is what
one takes to be the divine motivation behind it. For Dorner, the
motivation for incarnation is embedded in the motivation for
creation’ (pp. 59–60). This move, van Driel suggests, sponsors
an unsatisfactory stepping stone in Dorner’s doctrine of creation,
highlights what van Driel considers to be the most troubling and
deep-lying ambiguity in Dorner’s supralapsarian Christology,
and paves the way for the author’s turn to Barth and to an
assessment of the deeper traction of supralapsarian Christology
by highlighting not the beginning but the end of God’s work:
‘What motivated God to create? Systematically this means that
the argument for supralapsarian incarnation should not be
embedded in the doctrine of creation but in eschatology’
(p. 62). So van Driel turns to Barth’s ‘argument from consum-
mation’, that requisite feature of Barth’s doctrine of election
upon which van Driel will construct his own proposals.
Barth’s supralapsarian Christology, van Driel observes, takes
its shape in his actualism. God’s election of Jesus Christ is
primal in order, self-giving in nature, gracious in motivation,
creative in eVect, all-inclusive in scope, and supralapsarian in
character—the latter in terms of both predestination and
Christology: ‘Divine predestination is not a first step in a
divine response to sin and neither is the incarnation . . . God’s
election of Christ’s human nature is thus the first action in the
divine relating to what is not God’ (pp. 67, 68). Van Driel avers
that Barth’s supralapsarianism rests upon his reading of
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Scripture as a narrative of election. Election is understood escha-
tologically, and the eschaton as the first in order of the divine
decrees, the object and subject of which is Jesus Christ—not
the Son as l0go" 4sarko" but the Son as Jesus of Nazareth.
The incarnation, therefore, inaugurates God’s relating to what
is not God.
Certainly, Barth’s supralapsarian narrative recalls that creation
forms the stage for covenant’s story—a story authored in the
loving event called triune being, and whose meaning requires
both soteriological and eschatological achievement—and that
the creation which makes covenant possible does not exist for

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itself but for the gracious God upon whose will its future and
being is contingent. However, van Driel identifies some adverse
consequences of Barth’s account; most copiously, a concern
regarding creational entropy, that ‘creation, in and by itself,
will necessarily lapse into evil’ (p. 85) by ontological necessity.
This elicits a helpful discussion by van Driel of time, eternity,
and history (pp. 111–17), and of the relationship between supra-
lapsarianism and das Nichtige (pp. 118–24).
Building on Barth’s work, which he finds to be the most satis-
fying of the three accents, van Driel turns in the second part
(pp. 125–70) to sketch that the gospel logic of the incarnation
entirely discards felix culpa and points to a divine will for
(i) eschatological superabundance, (ii) the beatific vision, and
(iii) divine friendship. The first of these attempts at a construc-
tive argument is premissed on the relation between the eschaton
and the proton of creation, contending that the eschaton births
an abundance and richness in intimacy with God and in human
transformation which the proton did not know: ‘In Christ we
gain more than we lost in Adam’ (p. 151). And because felix
culpa makes such a promise contingent upon sin (which by its
very nature only alienates us from God), eschatological fulness
can only be understood in supralapsarian terms. Van Driel’s
second argument directs us to the visio Dei. Here he extends
his first argument and defends supralapsarianism on the basis
that full enjoyment of the beatific vision for bodily beings
requires sensory contact such as we are given sui generis in the
incarnation, resurrection, and ascension of the human God.
Finally, van Driel attends to the notion of friendship with
God, again arguing that the logic of supralapsarianism provides
the fullest account of divine availability. Such friendship, van
Driel avers, is not dependent finally on God’s desire to reconcile
estranged humanity but rather in the opposite truth: God’s
desire to reconcile estranged humanity finds its origin in the
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divine will for friendship. Throughout, van Driel resists con-


cerning himself with the hypothetical situation voiced by the
medievals of whether the incarnation would have taken place
had humanity not sinned, and concerns himself with ‘Christ as
we have him’ (p. 164). Against those who would defend some
version of felix culpa (here van Driel names Schleiermacher,
Gregory, Milton, and Barth), Incarnation Anyway challenges
supralapsarians to ‘explore the meaning of the incarnation, the
presence of God among us, as an excellent good in and of itself,
and not take refuge in a doctrine of sin to beef up incarnation’s
meaning. We do not need the bad to enjoy Christ’ (p. 131).

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A final section (pp. 171–5) oVers a brief, but helpful, genealogy
of supralapsarianism. Some readers may benefit by reading this
section first.
Incarnation Anyway could have been a better book.
Unfortunately, it sometimes reads like a collation of disconnected
pieces. It is unclear, for example, why van Driel reserves dispro-
portionate space (pp. 90–101) in this forum to continuing his
debate with Bruce McCormack, or why he includes a discussion
on ‘more-dimensional reality’ (pp. 167–9). As interesting as both
conversations are, as they stand they contribute little to his over-
all thesis. More substantially, I remain incredulous of van Driel’s
articulation of the distinction between incarnation as gift to
human nature and that as gift to human persons. (He suggests
that for those who contend that the Word’s assumption of fallen
flesh changes the ontological status of humanity from the inside
out, the ‘logic of assumption’ does all the work, and Christ’s
over-againstness of our human natures is undermined.) While
the distinction remains valid, the inclination to separate them
is unfortunate, the description and analysis oVered for each is
unclear, and the available resources for holding both together in
the tradition (not least the Reformed tradition out of which the
author speaks) are also ignored. Finally, this study most properly
belongs to a larger project (as the bibliographical appendix indi-
cates), and would have been strengthened had its author attended
more fully to the genesis and developments of supralapsarian
thought in Rupert of Deutz, Robert Grosseteste, Alexander of
Hales, Albert the Great, and, perhaps especially, in John Duns
Scotus and his theology of election. That said, van Driel’s essay
remains a welcome and too lonely contribution to a topic of great
import, and leaves the reader eagerly anticipating more from his
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pen on this topic, especially in those areas where he oVers his
own constructive proposals.

doi:10.1093/jts/flq099 JASON A. GORONCY


Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership, Dunedin
jgoroncy@knoxcollege.ac.nz

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