Snow on Dung Pile Theologies

A reader asks why Protestant pile of dung theology is a re-hash of Arianism. It would have been more precise to say that it is a re-hash of Adoptionism. Whoops. Blog posts are written quickly. 

First I should explain what I mean by ‘Protestant pile of dung theologies.’ This is a reference to Luther’s idea that because of original sin we are totally depraved and are worthless in God’s eyes. However, because of the death of Christ God looks on us and does not see our sin and depravity, but Christ’s righteousness. Luther likened this to a pile of dung that is covered by snow.
This is more technically (but less colorfully) called ‘imputed righteousness.’ Catholics do not believe this. We believe that through faith and baptism, and the continued sacramental life of grace, Christ’s righteousness is infused into us, not imputed. In other words, it doesn’t just cover us, making us superficially and outwardly good in God’s eyes. Instead, God’s grace really does get into us and transforms us from the inside out. It gets down deep to the very foundations of our being and re-makes us into the image of Christ.
Adoptionism was the Christological heresy that Jesus Christ was not truly and completely divine, but that his divinity was something he ‘adopted’. One such teaching said he became divine at his baptism. This is unsatisfactory because it suggests that he was a sinful person who simply had divinity imputed to him at some stage. This parallels the Protestant pile of dung theologies because they also suggest that Christ’s righteousness is not something that is deep within us as a transforming power, but something that is simply imputed to us.
However, there is a parallel to Arianism as well. Arius taught that Jesus Christ was not truly one with the Father. Inasmuch as ‘pile of dung theologies’ deny that we can experience theosis and be truly transformed into the likeness of Christ, they echo Arianism’s denial of the full integration of God and Man in Christ Jesus.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03892529674664589034 Jeff Miller

    One caveat is that the snow/dunghill quote of Luther seems to be a legend as Catholic Apologist Dave Armstrong chronicles. Though it is certainly fitting with Luther’s theology which seems odd to me considering Jesus’ words about denouncing the whitened sepulcher. This theology seems to be just that.http://socrates58.blogspot.com/2005/10/has-martin-luthers-snow-covered.html

  • http://amtheomusings.wordpress.com/ amtheomusings

    I’m still thrown off.As I am aware, adoptionism held as an idea that Jesus, the human, was able to become Christ, divine, through *sinless* devotion to God. It still seems that the “dung” picture in some Protestant theologies does not coalesce with that.I cannot think of a particular ancient heresy that it corresponds with, except perhaps Manichaeism.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11484509700642430451 Theocoid

    I’m more familiar with the term extrinisic justification than imputed righteousness, but the notion is the same.On Adoptionism, I think the agency is inverted in the description you have, amtheomusings. Jesus Christ in His humanity is adopted at His baptism. Your description sounds like a sort of Pelagian heresy (that he does something to merit adoption), while the latter shares more with Nestorianism.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16287885673401261090 Obpoet

    I think you are right, but I am plagued by the question, “What is death to an immortal?” By that I mean, what does Christ’s death mean as a sacrifice, if he knew he really was not going to die after all, because he is immortal. There is one intruiging possibility that makes sense to me: he did not know. It seems logical to conclude he probably did not know as a baby in Mary’s arms. He might not have known as a child. Did he know at 12 when found in his “Father’s house”, or was that just a generic “Father”? Did he know who he was at his baptism? If he had real doubts about his identity, then the scene in the garden makes perfect sense. And his death also makes sense, for then it becomes the ultimate sacrifice, since it is now based on faith and not on omniscience. The ultimate voyage into humankind is to become so completely human that you have the ability to doubt, to be unsure, or your own divinity. It is the prince and the pauper, the undercover cop locked up in prison with no way out, the man with amnesia lost in a foreign country where no one knows him. What is dying to the immortal? Not so much. What is sacrificing your life as a mortal? It is the faith of Abraham times ten.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11653512532356811993 Dan Woodring

    Father, you said: “This is more technically (but less colorfully) called ‘imputed righteousness.’ Catholics do not believe this. We believe that through faith and baptism, and the continued sacramental life of grace, Christ’s righteousness is infused into us, not imputed.”These statements, I believe, are confusing because Catholics do believe that righteousness is imputed as well as infused. You have it right when you say:”In other words, it doesn’t just cover us, making us superficially and outwardly good in God’s eyes. Instead, God’s grace really does get into us and transforms us from the inside out.”To say it doesn’t “just cover us” suggests that it does cover us. This is the teaching of Trent:Justification “is not remission of sins merely, but also the sanctification and renewal of the inward man, through the voluntary reception of the grace, and of the gifts, whereby man of unjust becomes just, and of an enemy a friend, that so he may be an heir according to hope of life everlasting.”On a side note, during my 12 years as a Lutheran pastor, I never once heard the “dung pile” analogy. Nonetheless, it is an accurate description of the Lutheran doctrine of Justification, except that Lutherans would hold that we are undergo some renewal, although this is not justification but sanctification which follows justification and does not contribute to salvation.My problem with Lutheranism is that it denied half of the Gospel, that is, infused grace.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11283123400540587033 Steve Hayes

    I don’t know much about Lutheranism, but certainly the Calvinists, especially the neo-Calvinists of today, stress the “imputer righteousness versus imparted righteousness” angle. I don’t know if it is linked to adoptionism, but it certainly seems to deny the Holy Spirit.


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