Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The Authority of Scripture

Scripture is authoritative, meaning it is worthy of us believing its teachings and obeying its commands. Its authority comes from its Author: God, based on His truth, power and sovereignty. What the scripture teaches comes with all the authority of “thus saith the Lord”. Denying the authority of scripture is denying God’s authority, because the scripture is God’s Word.

Catholics, in my opinion, indirectly undermine the authority of scripture, because:
  1. They teach errors, and claim exemption from the scrutiny of scripture. People are not allowed to look in scripture to find out if submission to the Pope is necessary for salvation.
  2. They subject scripture to another authority, the church. In practice they are not equivalent authorities. If you think scripture is telling you to do X and the church says do Y, you must do Y (and also unthink that the scripture said to do X).
  3. They use and teach the use of eisegesis (as opposed to exegesis). Instead of turning to scripture for the meaning of scripture, you must turn to the church and take it back with you to scripture.
  4. They deny scripture could be the only infallible teaching of the church as if God could not have done it that way.
  5. They say scripture is unclear, so for practical purposes we must look elsewhere for truth.
    They forbid consulting scripture in the original languages.
  6. They have in the past discouraged the study of scripture by common people, including forbidding translations and requiring people to get approval from the church to read the bible.

So while Catholics see Protestants as rebellious teenagers, because we do not submit to the Pope, in reality this is a two way street, because they do not submit to the authority of scripture. So as rhetorically effective as the “rebellion” argument may sound, it ultimately lacks substance.

The evidence in favor of the authority of scripture far outweighs that of the Pope. Scripture is constantly and verifiably correct in its teachings, but the Pope is neither. Scripture’s authority is demonstrated through its own teachings, its impact on history and the witness of the Holy Spirit.

Consider the evidence for the authority of scripture. The scripture describes God as all knowing and all powerful, and God issues His commands based on one reason only “I am the Lord your God”, so either he is a lunatic or God. But scripture’s commands are pure, demanding the highest conceivable virtues from the heart, thus demonstrating God’s holiness and omniscience. The Gospel demonstrates God’s wisdom, love, justice and mercy in ways no man could ever dream up. Its internal consistency is astounding! How could people from all walks of life over such a long period of time and from such diverse reasons and backgrounds ever pull together the masterpiece we call scripture. Scripture has been accepted by the people of God through history, despite suffering and ridicule.

Now consider the evidence for the infallibility of the Pope. Popes don’t claim to be infallible in all things, but only in matters of faith and morals. Further, most Popes never even claimed infallibility, that claim seems to conveniently originate around the time of Reformation. So scripture is consistently infallible, and Popes are not. Yet Popes have erred on matters of faith and morals, contradicting themselves and going as far as teaching the Arian heresy. The scriptures don’t contradict themselves and have never taught the Arian heresy.

So there is good reason to trust scripture, but not so the Popes.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Response to Dave Armstrong on Sola Scriptura

Dave Armstrong provided some arguments against sola scriptura that I thought I would address. Initially he provided some definitions of sola scriptura, which I more or less agreed with.

Here's his first issue regarding "victory conditions" in the sola scriptura debate.
The Catholic needs to go further than that and establish, based on unassailable biblical evidence, examples of tradition or Church proclamations that were binding and obligatory upon all who heard and received them. Whether these were infallible is another more complex question, but a binding decree is already either expressly contrary to sola scriptura, or, at the very least, a thing that casts considerable doubt on the formal principle.
I don't think what you suggest would disprove sola scriptura. Unquestionably, before the bible, there were oral teachings which were binding. Of course anything Christ said was binding. Before Moses, God taught His people in means other than writing. Further, even at the time of the Apostles, God spoke through visions and prophets. The Apostles themselves were filled with the Spirit at times when they preached. Take the sermons of Peter or Paul recorded in Acts. It's a bit of a catch 22. If they made mistakes during their sermons, did Luke record the errors? If not, Luke didn't infallibly record what they said. If so, we can't trust the sermons recorded in Acts. The solution is of course that the preachers, filled with the Spirit, didn't err. But this was of course oral.

The real question is what to do now that the Apostles have reposed; we no longer have visions and prophets; but we have the scriptures.

Thus, one of my favorite counter-arguments is to point out that the Apostle Paul and his companion Silas made their way “through the cities” and “delivered to them for observance the decisions which had been reached by the apostles and elders who were at Jerusalem” (Acts 16:4). This council at Jerusalem was described in the previous chapter as having reached its decisions by the direct aid or guidance of the Holy Spirit (15:28).
Similar to the above, I don't think the council of Jerusalem was fallible (due to the Holy Spirit, not the Apostles themselves). So what has changed? Why don't I accept post-apostolic councils as infallible. For one, we now have the bible; so the bible should be the infallible guide of all councils. But for another, post-apostolic councils, popes and the church have erred. One pope taught the Arian heresy (and a subsequent pope condemned him for it). The church flip-flopped on the issue of the Assumption of Mary (at times teaching it, at other times condemning it). One pope published his own personal translation of the bible, which was filled with errors. The next pope attempted to gather them all up and destroy them, because he knew they were wrong. Galileo was both hero and heretic. At one point there were three people claiming to be the pope.

In short, because the popes and councils have contradicted themselves and scripture, they clearly are not infallible. But scripture has never erred.

3. Another relevant question with regard to sola scriptura is the history of how the canon of the New Testament was determined. It was, of course, as a result of the authority of the Catholic Church, since prior to the proclamations in the late 4th century, there were plenty of disagreements among eminent Church fathers about individual books (while there was substantial consensus in the main, as well).
Scripture is God's word, and His children recognize His voice. The books declare themselves to be God's word. For more, see here.
Most Protestant defenders of Scripture Alone contend that it is taught in the Bible. I contend that their alleged prooftexts are invariably logically circular, flimsy and easily shot down (and I hope to demonstrate that in this book). Other Protestants argue that it is true and a solid principle, without having to be expressly taught in the Bible; that it isn’t logically necessary for that to be the case in order to adhere to sola Scriptura.

I fall into the latter category. The scripture declares itself to be authoritative and that its revelation is sufficient for salvation, but scripture does not denounce all other authorities. But scripture is "sola" because it's the last man standing, given the errors of popes and councils.
The most obvious question in this regard to be resolved by the Protestant is to explain how sola scriptura can continue to “hold water” despite the numerous inter-Protestant disagreements. Scripture is, we are told, clear enough in its main outlines to be understood by the layman without necessary (let alone binding) help from any church body or ecclesiastical communion.
Just as what sinners did with Christ should not be held against Christ, neither should what sinners do with scripture be held against scripture. Still, most of the divisions are not over essentials of the faith; so we remain united in a more important sense. And by the way, the Catholic church isn't the only one claiming to be the one true church with an unbroken chain to the Apostles. I understand the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Armenian Church and the Coptic church make that claim as well.

Protestants, in reaction to these irresolvable conundrums, have come up with the notion of “essential” vs. “secondary” doctrines, which entails (I shall argue in this book) yet another unbiblical distinction.
Scripture states that some of its teachings are more important than others. Thus some commands are called "the more important matters of the law", while others are called "the least of these commandments". (Matthew 5:19; 23:23) So also, the Gospel has more glory and weight than the Law. (2 Corinthians 3:9; Hebrews 2:1-3; 10:26-29) It's the Gospel that's essential for salvation, albeit the other aspects are important.

Friday Files: Cameron's Arminus- Hero or Heretic?

Charles Cameron’s article, “Arminius―Hero or Heretic?” explains that James Arminius comes as a bit of a surprise to both Calvinists and Arminians today, as he is closer to Calvinism than people expect. Cameron starts with some preliminaries about Arminius (his affinity for Calvin’s commentaries, his approach to reconciling differences and his commitment to scripture) and then dives into the 5 points of Calvinism. On Total Depravity, Cameron notes Arminius’ focus on grace, not freewill. On Election, Arminius teaches a Christocentric, evangelical, eternal, decree whereby God chooses to save believers. Cameron questions the “from eternity” and “based on foreknowledge” aspect of Arminius’ explanation of election. On the Atonement, Arminius avoids universalism, but advocates God’s universal love and the availability of forgiveness for all. On Grace, Arminius avoids deterministic necessity, but affirms man’s dependence on God’s grace. On Perseverance, Cameron notes that Arminius does not fit into “Calvinist Arminian patterns of theological pigeonholing”, and that at times Arminius seems to sometimes advocate falling from grace, and sometimes not.

Friday Files: Picirilli’s Foreknowledge, Freedom, and the Future

In Robert E. Picirilli’s article Foreknowledge, Freedom, and the Future, he explains that Reformation Arminians hold that God knows what we will freely choose in the future, whereas Neo-Arminians (a.k.a. Open Theists) disagree. With a little help from Arminius and Richard Watson, Pircirilli carefully defends his thesis that “there is nothing about the certainty of the future that is in conflict with the ability of human beings to make free, moral decisions” by defining certainty, necessity and contingency and demonstrating how contingency and certainty don’t conflict. Picirilli explains that the difference between Calvinists and Arminians is foreordination, not foreknowledge. For the Reformation Arminian, then, the final set of facts to hold is: (1) the future is certain and foreknown certainly by God; (2) this is in full harmony with the fact that human beings make free, moral choices for which they are held justly responsible. (link)

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Arminius on Sola Scriptura

I recently read Michael Patton's post on the canon of scripture, Dave Armstrong’s response, and Turretinfan’s debate with Matthew Bellisario on sola scriptura. Before I continue, let me make it clear that I agree with sola scriptura and reject the Catholic explanation of the rule of faith. Further, I think Michael and Turretinfan did a good job overall, and were more convincing than their Catholic opponents. Nevertheless, both Michael Patton and Turretinfan made maneuvers that surprised me and in my opinion weakened their defense of sola scriptura.

Michael Patton, in responding to the Catholic argument that without the infallible declaration of the Church, there would be no way of knowing what books belong in the canon of Scripture, replies Protestants have a fallible canon of infallible books. Why does he make this surprising move? Michael realizes the question is one of epistemology - “How do you know?” But Michael rejects absolute certainty for relative certainty. This supposed need for absolute certainty is primarily the product of the enlightenment and a Cartesian epistemology. To say that we have to be infallibly certain about something before it can be believed and acted upon is setting the standard so high that only God Himself could attain to it. Outside of mathematics and analytical statements (e.g. a triangle had three sides), there is no absolute certainty, only relative certainty. This epistemological limitation results in Michael declaring the canon fallible.

I disagree. God reveals the canon of scripture to us, because the scriptures declare themselves to be Divine. Arminius explains:

But by the very arguments by which the Scriptures are Divine, they are also [proved to be] Canonical, from the method and end of their composition, as containing the rule of our faith, charity, hope, and of the whole of our living. For they are given for doctrine, for reproof, for instruction, for correction, and for consolation; that is, that they may be the rule of truth and falsehood to our understanding, of good and evil to our affections, either to do and to omit, or to have and to want. (Deut. xxvii, 26; Psalm cxix, 105,106; Rom. x, 8, 17; Matt. xxii, 37-40; 2 Tim. iii, 16; Rom. xv, 4.) For as they are Divine because given by God, not because they are "received from men;" so they are canonical, and are so called in an active sense, because they prescribe a Canon or rule, and not passively, because they are reckoned for a Canon, or because they are taken into the Canon. So far indeed is the Church from rendering them authentic or canonical, that no assemblage or congregation of men can come under the name of a Church, unless they account the Scriptures authentic and canonical with regard to the sum or substance of the Law and Gospel. (Gal. vi, 16; 1 Tim. vi, 3, 4; Rom. xvi, 17; x, 8-10, 14-17.) (link)

Knowing the canon is simply receiving God’s word. God says “this is My Word”, and we believe Him. Other books do not declare themselves to be God’s Word, so we leave them out of the canon.

Granted this involves faith and we walk by faith, not by sight. But we can know the canon is correct in the same sense we can know any other spiritual truth. Faith and proof are alternative paths to certainty. I am not any less certain that Jesus Christ is the Son of God than I am that 2+2=4. Further, the faith part relates directly to God’s authority and only indirectly to accepting this book as God’s Word or not. The reasons we believe the 66 books are God’s Word are sufficient to know they are God’s Word, if we grant God’s authority.

Appealing to epistemological limitations at this point is unhelpful and runs the risk of removing all certainty. If we don’t accept certain axioms like our own existence or the law of identity, we cannot be absolutely certain about anything at all. This includes matters of faith (i.e. Jesus Christ is the Son of God) and matters of science (i.e. 2+2=4). But if we grant the axioms (and we must), we can demonstrate truth, including that the 66 books are the correct canon of scripture.

Turretinfan argued that Sola Scriptura (as expressed in the Westminster standards) is properly derived from Scripture." While the Bible claims its own infallible authority, it does not renounce all others. It does claim the sufficiency and completeness of its revelation regarding salvation, but it doesn’t claim to be “sola” in all religious matters. Instead “sola” is derived from examining other things which claim to be infallible. Since Popes and councils have contradicted themselves and scriptures, we reject their claim of infallibility. Scriptura is “sola” because it’s the last man standing. Arminius explains:

Those [new] revelations which are said to have been already made, have never yet been demonstrated in this manner (establishment of their Divinity by indubitable arguments); and it will be impossible to produce any such demonstrative evidence in support of those which, it is asserted, will afterwards occur. (link)

So while I agree with Michael and Turretinfan on sola scriptura, I disagree with them on how to explain it. Scripture, and scripture alone, demonstrates itself to be God's Word.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

James Arminius youtube Clip

I made a quick youtube video on James Arminius, giving a brief overview of his history and of the 5 points of the Remonstrants. Enjoy!!!

Friday, December 12, 2008

Friday Files: Brian Abasciano’s Corporate Election in Romans 9: A Reply to Thomas Schreiner

In Brian Abasciano’s article Corporate Election in Romans 9: A Reply to Thomas Schreiner, Abasciano corrects Schreiner’s mistaken notion that corporate election denies any place to the individual. He argues that election is primarily corporate based on 1) the OT concept of election, 2) Paul’s statements about election to salvation and the fact that 3) first century culture was collectivist rather than individualistic. However, even though the primary focus of election is the community, the fact remains that the individual is elect secondarily as a member of the community. All this sets the stage for correctly understanding election in Romans 9 and answering Schreiner’s arguments. (link)

Friday, December 5, 2008

Friday Files: Martin Glynn’s critique of the Articles of the Remonstrants

In Martin Glynn’s critique of the Articles of the Remonstrants, he provides a brief and helpful historical introduction and then dissects each of the five articles. Glynn notes the two surprises in the pile: article 3 is an unqualified expression of Total Depravity and in article 5 the Remonstrants are undecided on the issue of apostasy and simply say they need to research it more in Scripture. (link)

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Book Review: Man’s faith and Freedom by Gerald O McCulloh

Man’s faith and Freedom is a collection of 5 essays and a sermon presented at the 1960 Arminius Symposium in Holland in 1960. Instead of giving the overall volume mixed reviews, I will review each essay separately.

The Life and Struggles of Arminius in the Dutch Republic by Gerrit Jan Hoenderdall presents a succinct and accurate summary of the life and times of James Arminius. Arminius' theological training and pastoral experiences in Amsterdam prepared him for professorship at Leiden, where his disagreements with Calvinistic predestination came to a head. Hoenderdall does a good job capturing the political undercurrents involved in the theological debates in Holland. The topic of debate was predestination but what were the rules and more importantly who was to preside over the debate? Arminius enjoyed some limited, hard-fought progress, but shortly after his death the Calvinists would prevail. The irony in Arminius’ life was his quarreling to gain peace.

From Arminius to Arminianism in Dutch Theology by Lambertus Jacobus van Holk traces the thought of James Arminius to that of the current Brotherhood of the Remonstrants. Sadly, Lambertus attempts to tie Arminius to universalism, moral relativism, liberal theology and the philosophy of Immanuel Kant. Since Arminius has nothing to do with these things, his account requires some quantum leaps and ultimately Lambertus concludes that Arminius would have fallen outside of present day Arminianism. Lambertus then starts advocating universalism. While I am concerned about Lambertus’ misrepresentation of Arminianism, I am more concerned that he needs to repent for the Kingdom of God is at hand.

The Influence of Arminianism in England by Geoffrey Nuttall provides an outstanding review of the history of English Arminianism. Nuttall identifies four sources of 17th century Arminianism in England: Baptists, Dutch settlers, Anglican high-churchmen and Quakers. While it’s true Quakers and Unitarians sometimes claimed to be Arminian, we really have the Socinians to thank for them. But even though Nuttal mistakenly adds in Quakers and overlooks the Arminian Puritans, he does locate the main sources of early Arminianism. In the 18th century Wesley and the Methodists take over, which Nuttall attributes not to Wesley’s theology (Wesley’s parents were both Arminian and it wasn’t rare those days) but rather to his zeal for missions.

The Influence of Arminius on American Theology by Gerald O McCulloh was my favorite essay in the book. McCulloh traces Arminianism from the American colonies to the present day. In the early days, Arminianism struggled (McCulloh notes the burning of William Pyynchon’s book on the atonement). But over time, particularly with the influence of Methodism, Arminianism starts to take root.

Arminius and the Structure of Society by James Luther Adams traces from Arminian theology to society. In particular, the concepts of individualism, freedom and the relationship between church and state were important Remonstrant ideals that impacted society. Arminius pushed for tolerance of Arminianism within the Dutch Reformed Church. After Dort, Episcopius pushed for the government to allow two churches, as opposed to one state church. The Remonstrants thought the government should be tolerant, rather than stamping out alternative churches. This idea was influential on society at large.

Faith and Wonder by Russell Henry Stafford is a sermon reminding us that we cannot read the mind of God, but unfortunately it drifts off into the anti-knowledge errors of Kant.

In summary, I was disappointed by the books links between Arminianism and liberalism, but I did think the book gave some valuable insights and historic overviews.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Bavinck on the Unknowability of God's Decrees

In Bavinck’s article on supralapsarian and infralapsarian predestination (link), he disagrees with supralapsarianism and infralapsarianism about 90% of the time, so we get very few glimpses of what he actually believes. I went through the article and pulled out all the positive statements by Bavinck about predestination. I came out with 10 statements. Upon examining the statements, I noted that the majority of them are either in tension with each other or leave a major term undefined.

Statements in tension with each other (i.e. that seem to move in opposite directions - although they don’t formally contradict each other, no reconciliation is provided):
  • (statement) On the one hand, both election and reprobation presuppose sin, and are deeds of mercy and of justice, Rom. 9:15; Eph. 1:4;
  • (counter) on the other hand both [election and reprobation] are also deeds of divine right and sovereignty, Rom. 9:11, 17, 21.
  • (statement) At times Scripture expresses itself so strongly that reprobation and election are coordinated, and God is represented as having purposed eternal perdition as well as eternal salvation, Luke 2:34; John 3:19-21; I Pet. 2:7, 8; Rom. 9:17, 18, 22, etc.;
  • (counter) but in other passages eternal death is entirely absent in the description of the future; the victorious consummation of the kingdom of God, the new heaven and earth, the new Jerusalem in which God will be all and in all is pictured to us as the end of all things, I Cor. 15; Rev. 21, 22; the universe is represented as existing for the church, and the church for Christ, I Cor. 3:21-23; and reprobation is completely subordinated to election.
  • (statements) The true element in supralapsarianism is: that it emphasizes the unity of the divine decree and the fact that God had one final aim in view, that sin's entrance into the universe was not something unexpected and unlooked for by God but that he willed sin in a certain sense, and that the work of creation was immediately adapted to God's redemptive activity so that even before the fall, i.e., in the creation of Adam, Christ's coming was definitely fixed.
  • (counters) And the true element in infralapsarianism is: that the decrees manifest not only a unity but also a diversity (with a view to their several objects), that these decrees reveal not only a teleological but also a causal order, that creation and fall cannot merely be regarded as means to an end, and that sin should be regarded not as an element of progress but rather as an element of disturbance in the universe so that in and by itself it cannot have been willed by God.

These seem to be opposing pairs, and without additional explanation it’s hard to say what Bavinck thinks on these topics.

Statements with a major term that is undefined:

  • To be sure, sin should not be referred to “bare foreknowledge and permission”; in a certain sense, the fall, sin, and eternal punishment are included in God's decree and willed by him. But this is true in a certain sense only, and not in the same sense as grace and salvation.
  • In the third place, there is still another ground for the assertion that those err who coordinate “predestination unto eternal death” with “predestination unto eternal life,” and view the former as a goal in the same sense as the latter; while it is true that certain individuals constitute the object of reprobation, the human race under a new Head, namely Christ, is the object of election; hence, by grace not only certain individuals are saved, but the human race itself together with the entire cosmos is saved.

The last statement sounds like universalism, but I doubt that’s what Bavinck had in mind. The first statement warns of potential equivocation, but doesn’t define the terms.

Statements I can understand:

  • And when he punishes the wicked, he does not take delight in their sufferings as such, but in this punishment he celebrates, the triumph of his virtues, Deut. 28:63; Ps. 2:4; Prov. 1:26; Lam. 3:33.
  • For by reason of its very nature, every goal is the very best something, the perfection of an object; damnation, however, is the extreme evil and the greatest imperfection; hence the expression `God has predestinated some men unto damnation' is incorrect.”

I agree with what Bavinck is saying, but he isn’t saying much. Why isn’t Bavinck taking a stand on predestination? He ascribes it to the “limited character of our reasoning powers”. Bavinck states:

Because of the limited character of our reasoning powers we must needs proceed from the one or from the other viewpoint; hence, the advocates of a causal world
and life-view and the defenders of a teleological philosophy are engaged in continual warfare. But this disharmony does not exist in the mind of God. He sees the whole, and surveys all things in their relations. All things are eternally present in his consciousness.

Bavinck holds to epistemological limitations that prohibit people from understanding God’s revelation. It’s not just the mind of God that we cannot understand; the limitation also applies to what God is revealing to us.

His decree is a unity: it is a single conception. And in that decree all the different elements assume the same relation which a posteriori we even now observe between the facts of history, and which will become fully disclosed in the future. This relation is so involved and complicated that neither the adjective “supralapsarian” nor “infralapsarian” nor any other term is able to express it. It is both causal and teleological: that which precedes exerts its influence upon that which follows, and that which is still future already determines the past and the present.

Note that Bavinck applies the limitation not only to God’s one decree but also to the relationship of all the different elements. In other words, not only can we not understand the true nature of God’s one, infinite, eternal, decree, but we cannot understand the relationship of the various aspects of the outworking of the decree.

This stands in contrast to the typical way theologians (both Arminian and Calvinist) have explained the issue. It's true God’s decree is one, eternal, and unknowable. We cannot know the mind of God. But God’s one decree arranges a multitude of events, and those events are interrelated. Thus the scripture speaks of multiple decrees and we can understand the relationship between the events and therefore the relationship of the multiple impacts of God’s decree.

Calvinist Charles Hodge explains:

As, however, this one purpose includes an indefinite number of events, and as those events are mutually related, we therefore speak of the decrees of God as many, and as having a certain order. The Scriptures consequently speak of the judgments, counsels or purposes of God, in the plural number, and also of his determining one event because of another. When we look at an extensive building, or a complicated machine, we perceive at once the multiplicity of their parts, and their mutual relations. Our conception of the building or of the machine is one, and yet it comprehends many distinct perceptions, and the apprehension of their relations. So also in the mind of the architect or mechanist, the whole is one idea, though he intends many things, and one in reference to another. We can, therefore, in a measure, understand how the vast scheme of creation, providence, and redemption, lies in the divine mind as one simple purpose, although including an infinite multiplicity of causes and effects.

Thus, Bavinck departs from Hodge, by denying we can understand the relationship between the scripturally revealed purposes of God.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Index to Daniel Whitby on Grace

Daniel Whitby's Discourses on the 5 Points was, during its day, the definitive Arminian work against Calvinism. Whitby had a commanding knowledge of the scriptures, and his book is a detailed and unrelenting examination of Calvinism. It drew responses from famous Calvinists Jonathan Edwards, Inquiry into the Will and John Gill, the Cause of God and Truth.
Below is an index to Whitby's discourse on Grace. Archaic spellings and words have been updated, sentences broken down into shorter sentences and links to scripture references inserted.

Chapter 2: Arguments against Irresistible Grace

Chapter 3: Refuting Arguments for Irresistible Grace

Bavinck on God's Sovereignty

Sovereignty typically means authority or right. Both Calvinists and Arminians agree that God is sovereign in all He does, so He has the authority to do what He does. Period. The End.

But wait!!! In Bavinck’s article on supralapsarian and infralapsarian predestination (link), he states:

In all his “outgoing works” God always has in view his own glory; but that he seeks to establish this glory in this and in no other way is to be ascribed to his sovereignty and to nothing else.
Bavinck uses the term “sovereignty” as either God’s actions or the reason for His actions, not just His authority to act. He is saying “God is doing X”, but rather than explaining why God is doing X, He simply says God has the right to do X and claims God’s right to do X is the explanation. Here are some examples.
  • Reprobation cannot be explained as an act of God's justice, for the first sinful deed at any rate was permitted by God's sovereignty.
  • On the one hand, both election and reprobation presuppose sin, and are deeds of mercy and of justice, Rom. 9:15; Eph. 1:4; on the other hand both are also deeds of divine right and sovereignty, Rom. 9:11, 17, 21.
  • Both infra- and supralapsarianism deny the freedom of the will, reject the idea that faith is the cause of election and that sin is the cause of reprobation, and thus oppose Pelagianism; both in the final analysis pay homage to God's sovereignty.

This is not abnormal Calvinist behavior. For example, popular Calvinist author and preacher John MacArthur claims:

  • Paul anticipated the argument against divine sovereignty: “You will say to me then, ‘Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will?’” (v. 19). In other words, doesn’t God’s sovereignty cancel out human responsibility?
  • Scripture affirms both divine sovereignty and human responsibility. We must accept both sides of the truth, though we may not understand how they correspond to one another. People are responsible for what they do with the gospel—or with whatever light they have (Rom. 2:19-20), so that punishment is just if they reject the light. And those who reject do so voluntarily….In John 6, our Lord combined both divine sovereignty and human responsibility when He said, “All that the Father gives Me shall come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out” (v. 37)… How both of these two realities can be true simultaneously cannot be understood by the human mind—only by God. (link)

In other words, they substitute the right to act in place of an explanation for the act, implicitly denying the act can be explained. Now some Calvinists (like Hodge, Edwards and Turretin) have taken a shot at explaining the act, and it looks a lot like causal predeterminism. But many Calvinists like Bavinck don’t explain things, they just leave it at God is sovereign. This reminds me of a Seinfeld episode where they would “yada, yada, yada” over the best part.

Friday Files: Leonard's Review of Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities

James Leonard provided a nice summary of Roger Olson’s book: Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities. Olson’s book is quickly becoming an Arminian classic. One of Leonard’ key points is “Arminians are not driven to their position because they want to cling to free will, as if it were absolutely precious and the one non-negotiable of the debate. The real issue for Arminians is the character of God. Arminians are driven to their position because they see that Calvinism leads to making God the author and the effecting power of sin, and denying God's goodness.” (link)

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Corporate and Individual Election

Corporate election is the idea that election is primarily about a group and secondarily about individuals. It’s most clearly seen in the OT concept of Israel and the NT concept of the church. Philip Limborch addressed the objection that corporate election rules out individual election:

In the first place it is objected that the predestination we have defined, is not that of persons, but of faith; since faith is thereby predestined as a condition of salvation. Answer. He who elected faith as a condition to be performed by men if they would attain eternal life, has truly elected men under that condition, and in His decree has an immediate regard to people. Therefore these two things, viz., the person and his qualification, are never to be separated, but are always to be joined together. (Philip Limborch, A Complete System or Body of Divinity, both Practical and Speculative. P 344-345)

Scripture paints a manifold view of election:

  1. God chooses Christ as the foundation of salvation (1 Peter 1:20)
  2. God chooses faith as the instrument of salvation (Romans 4:16)
  3. God chooses to save believers (1 Corinthians 1:21, John 3:16)
  4. God chooses the defined group (i.e. the list of individuals) from eternity through foreknowledge (1 Peter 1:2, Romans 8:29, 1 Thessalonians 2:13) and in time as individuals enter the covenant community (Romans 10:5-13, 11:17-24)

The objection Limborch answers above is essentially that #3 is indistinct from #2 and #4. The idea is that either the list of people is defined (via foreknowledge) and so #3 is really #4,or God is only choosing a condition (i.e. faith, not works) and not a group.

Admittedly, the difference between choosing to save through faith and choosing to save believers is slight (i.e. #3 vs #4). The former is a choice of faith itself and latter is whoever has faith. The difference between #3 and #4 is shaper. “Whosoever believes” in John 3:16 isn’t a statement about God’s foreknowledge of the list of people through history who will believe, but rather a statement that regardless of who the person is, if they believe they fall into this category.

One of the best recent accounts of the relation between corporate election and the individual is Brian Abasciano’s Corporate Election in Romans 9: A Reply to Thomas Schreiner. (link)

Friday, November 21, 2008

Bavinck on supra/infra-lapsarian predestination

I recently read Herman Bavinck on supralapsarian and infralapsarian predestination. (link) Bavinck’s approach is intriguing. He argues that both the supralapsarian and infralapsarian systems have their strengths and weaknesses, so he cherry-picks the strengths and discards the weaknesses as he presents his own unsystematized views on the subject of predestination. To be clear, he is not saying that he is unable to systematize predestination, but rather that the topic cannot be systematized.

This approach has its drawbacks. Without a logical order, the topic can’t really be explained, nor can Bavinck be sure his system is free from contradiction. Advocates of Bavinck's approach claim greater freedom to interpret scripture, but if your interpretation of one passage is in tension with another passage, you can never be sure your interpretation is correct. Systematic theology is a lot of hard work. You have to keep many pieces in view simultaneously to ensure you don't run into contradiction. Defining terms, uncovering implications, deriving deductions and organizing explanations help ensure your system is free from contradiction. But you can never take the shortcut of forcing your system on a passage of scripture; again systematic theology is hard work.
Bavinck accepts conclusions from the supra and sublapsarian positions that are derived from contradictory premises. To avoid contradiction, Bavinck simply avoids the premises, but then where did the conclusion come from? To me, that’s like admiring the roof of a house while laying dynamite to the foundation in the hope that the roof will just float. More to the point, scripture states a house divided against itself cannot stand and that a double minded man is unstable in all his ways.

Perhaps Bavinck’s approach is “the new Calvinism”. This post on Pen & Parchment explains why Calvinism is the least rational option. This style is quite different than the Calvinism I am used to. Successful or not, Hodge, Edwards and Turretin seem insistent on attempting to reconciling apparent discrepancies. So on the one hand, it's tempting to simply dismiss Bavinck as "not the reformed view", but on the other hand his views are perhaps represent many Calvinists.

Since Bavinck doesn’t have a system, God willing, I will to respond to his points individually rather than as a whole.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

God's Foreknowledge - Peter, Judas and Christ

I recently read Greg Boyd’s explanation of Christ’s foretelling Judas’s betrayal and Peter’s denial. The basic issue is that in open theism, a free choice cannot be foreknown. Boyd’s states that at the time of their sins, Judas and Peter were not free (i.e. they couldn’t choose remain faithful to Christ). But since their prior free choices had formed their character, they were still responsible even if not free at that specific moment. (Boyd on Peter, Boyd on Judas)

While I suspect this explanation is unsound for multiple reasons, let’s for the moment grant that it’s true. What about cases were the future is foretold, yet counterfactual ability is asserted?

Matthew 26:52-54: But Jesus said to him, “Put your sword in its place, for all who take the sword will perish by the sword. Or do you think that I cannot now pray to My Father, and He will provide Me with more than twelve legions of angels? How then could the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must happen thus?”

Christ claims the ability to do otherwise and that what He was going to do. Even if Judas and Peter didn’t have the ability to do otherwise, Christ did. So scripture asserts future free acts can be foreknown.

How does this singular example impact all of open theism? Scripture teaches God’s knowledge is infinite:

Great is our Lord, and of great power: his understanding is infinite. (Psalm 147:5)

So if future free choices are knowable, God knows them. Open theism relies on future free acts, as a category, being unknowable. One counterexample impacts the whole system.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

No New Ideas from Princeton

In Boettner’s introduction to the Reformed Doctrine of Predestination (RDP), he claims he isn’t teaching anything new:

The purpose of this book is not to set forth a new system of theological thought, but to give a re-statement to that great system which is known as the Reformed Faith or Calvinism, and to show that this is beyond all doubt the teaching of the Bible and of reason. (link)

A.A. Hodge makes a similar claim regarding Charles Hodge:

On the day of his semi-centennial celebration, he turned with a beautiful simplicity to his brethren and said that "Princeton had never been charged with originating a new idea." To his mind this was a high distinction. It is mind that has made Princeton a synonym for greatness, but it was mind that feared God and never dared to originate what He had not taught. (link)

This is basically a claim that Calvinism is taught in the bible. Calvinism becomes not just a system of reconciling scripture, but the very system itself is taught in scripture. That’s a high standard.

I have little hesitation in saying limited atonement is unbiblical; same for irresistible grace. But I am far less confident in saying unconditional election is unbiblical. Many of my views on election and predestination are deducted from other scriptural truths [rather than direct scriptural statements]. But because I can see myself in there interpreting the scriptures, I must admit I could be wrong. I don’t want to elevate my interpretation of scripture to the level of scripture. So, for now, I will only say it’s more likely than not that election is conditional.

My assessment of Calvinism, based on my study of scripture so far, is that it’s an interpretation of scripture, rather than a teaching of scripture. As I move into RDP, through God’s grace, I will 1) lay aside my own preconceptions, and 2) hold Calvinism to the highest possible standard [i.e. not just that Calvinism can be reconciled with the word of God, but that it’s expressly taught by the word of God].

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Prereformation Church History & the Calvinist/Arminian Debate

Calivinists have a rich heritage; one they can be proud of. It's unquestionable that Augustine, many of the Reformers and Puritans held Calvinist ideas. But after reading Boettner's introduction of the Reformed Doctrine of Predestination, one might get the impression that Calvinism dominates church history and substantially every major theologian accepted Calvinisic predestination. Boettner claims:

The great majority of the creeds of historic Christendom have set forth the doctrines of Election, Predestination, and final Perseverance, as will readily be seen by any one who will make even a cursory study of the subject. On the other hand Arminianism existed for centuries only as a heresy on the outskirts of true religion, and in fact it was not championed by an organized Christian church until the year 1784, at which time it was incorporated into the system of doctrine of the Methodist Church in England. (link)

Boettner equivocates predestination with Calvinistic predestination. The historic creeds do indeed teach predestination, but not Calvinistic predestination. Many simply stick to the language of scripture. Since Calvinists and Arminians disagree on the interpretation of scripture, likely they disagree on the interpretation of creeds as well. For example, scripture says we are elected, which Calvinists take to mean we are unconditionally elected, yet Arminians take as conditionally elected. So if a creed says we are elected, Calvinists and Arminians are likely to disagree on what the creed means. This is why Arminius states:

This doctrine [supra-lapsarian Calvinism] was never admitted, decreed, or approved in any Council, either general or particular, for the first six hundred years after Christ…. [The Arminian explanation of predestination] agrees with that harmony of all confessions, which has been published by the protestant Churches. (link)

Arminius goes on to explain how Augustine’s explanation of predestination both falls short of supra-lapsarian Calvinism and that it was not universally received by the church. Further, he explains his view aligns with the Belgic Confession and the Heidelberg Catechism, and supra-lapsarian Calvinism does not.

So if creeds are open to interpretation, does that mean we can't tell anything from them and church history regarding the Calvinist/Arminian debate? No, but one must be careful. When reading history, one must avoid the temptation of reading their views back into history. Further, it's difficult to conclude what historic authors thought about a subject (like Calvinism), unless they specifically address that subject. This is why it's difficult to say exactly were the church stood on the topics addressed in the Calvinist/Arminian debate. But some Calvinistic ideas (specifically reprobation and limited atonement) did come up at times before the reformation, and I wanted to highlight two important episodes to demonstrate that Calvinism was not universally accepted.

No ecumenical councils established Arminianism and anathematized Calvinism, but some regional ones did. In the aftermath of the Pelagian heresy, two fallout errors were condemned by two councils. The more well known of the two as the Council of Orange in 529, which condemned semi-Pelagianism. But prior to Orange, the Council of Arles condemned the errors of Lucian the predestinarian. Lucian began teaching a more severe version of predestination than Augustine; which apparently included reprobation and limited atonement. The Council of Arles (around 472) threatened to excommunicate Lucian if he held these six errors:

1. That man was born without sin, and by his own effort alone could be saved, and could free himself from sinful ways without the grace of God. 2. That a man who, with sincere faith, had received the grace of baptism and had professed the Christian life, and afterwards through temptation had fallen away, perished in the original sin of Adam. 3. That a man through God's foreknowledge might be destined to death. 4. That a man who perished had not received of grace that he might be in the way of salvation. 5. That man made as a vessel unto dishonour can never arise to become a vessel unto honour. 6. That Christ did not die for all, and does not will that all should be saved.

Thomas Scott Holmes. The Origin & Development of the Christian Church in Gaul During the First Six Centuries of the Christian Era. P 404-405

For variations on the phrasing of the 6 points, see Sabine Baring Gould, The Lives of the Saints. P416 and Alfonso Maria de' Liguori. The History of Heresies and Their Refutation: Or, The Triumph of the Church. P 116-117. Of note, one variant on the third point reads: “the foreknowledge of God violently drives men to death, or that those who perish, perish by the will of God.”

So the Council of Arles seems to condemn both Pelagianism and certain Calvinistic doctrines.

Because the Council of Arles was championed by the semi-Pelagian, Faustus, it’s sometimes called into question, since semi-Pelagianism was condemned by the council of Orange some 60 years later. But it’s wrong to suppose that these two councils are at odds with each other; rather they condemn two opposing extremes. Lucian submitted to the council of Arles rather than question its authority. Further, Arles didn’t contain the semi-Pelagian tenets condemned by Orange, so the two councils didn't disagree. Interestingly, the Synod of Orange included some language similar to Arles when it stated: “According to the catholic faith we also believe that after grace has been received through baptism, all baptized persons have the ability and responsibility, if they desire to labor faithfully, to perform with the aid and cooperation of Christ what is of essential importance in regard to the salvation of their soul. We not only do not believe that any are foreordained to evil by the power of God, but even state with utter abhorrence that if there are those who want to believe so evil a thing, they are anathema.” (link)

A second interesting episode in Church history happened between 848 between 849 when Gottschalk was condemned and imprisoned for teaching limited atonement and double predestination. James Craigie Robertson. History of the Christian Church p307-321.

I bring this up not because I think councils are infallible or because I think Calvinism is heresy. I actually think what happened to Gottschalk was deplorable. Rather, I just wanted to point out that Calvinism hasn't dominated church history.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Index for a Critique of Jonathan Edwards’ Enquire into the Will


Critique of Edwards’ View of the Will
What is Libertarian Free Will?

Edwards Arguments against Freewill
Causeless Cause or Infinite Regression of Causes
Divine foreknowledge

Arguments against the Link between Freewill and Responsibility
Impeccability and Hardening
Commands and Invitations for the Impossible
Desire isn't good enough

Evaluation of Grounds for Freewill
Common and Philosophical Necessity
Necessity of the Divine Will

Wrap Up of Edwards Book Review

Modern Reactions
Free to Choose what we Desire Most?
Debate with Turretinfan on God’s freewill

One of the Reasons I am voting for McCain

During the last two Democratic Presidencies (Carter and Clinton) laws were passed to make ways for people who couldn’t afford housing to purchase houses. Back in the day, people needed to come up with large down payments to be able to afford houses. The sub/prime loan market was created through the instrumentation of quasi-government agencies Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and Ginnie Mae, enabling people who previously couldn’t afford houses to purchase houses. The market was artificial and would have died of natural causes, but its life was extended by creative loan instruments such as interest only loans, negative amortization loans and self-certification of income loans. The market finally corrected itself this year. The Democrats would have you believe that the Republicans fell asleep at the switch and should have prevented the economy from falling apart under their watch. But such ideas assume the point in question: that the government, not the free markets, should drive the economy. If the government wishes to help the markets, the best thing they can do is laissez faire [let it be].

I am not heartless. The idea of people that can’t afford homes buying homes is a nice thought. But the way to get there has to be the combination increasing their earnings (through education and effort) and decreasing the cost of houses (through technology). But the Democrats plan to increase taxes and regulations for big business, hindering and removing the incentives for technological progress. Further, they plan to socialize basic needs, dissincentivizing education and hard work. The promise of someone fixing your problems for you sounds nice, but it's not always real.

There are many other reasons why I will vote for McCain, some more important than this, but this is one of them.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Happy Reformation Day

Today was reformation day, a good day to remember the work of men like Wycliffe, professor at Oxford, who was kicked out for challenging Catholic Church's views of indulgences, authority, and mass, only to spend the rest of his days translating the scripture from Latin to English. We remember men like Hus, who sang hymns while He was burned at the stake for holding scripture higher than the Catholic Church. We of course remember Luther, who detested indulgences, championed justification by faith and translated the bible into German. We remember Tyndale, who was martyred for translating, printing and smuggling bibles into England. We even remember Calvin, who's lectures on scripture transformed Geneva into a protestant pastor factory.

The theme here is the word of God, and if you wish your life to transform as well, read your bible.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Calvinism and Determinism 4 (response to Turretinfan)

TF: The price is sufficient to save, but is not used to that end.

Yes, but you speak of Christ’s death as if it’s only a value and not also a use of that value.

TF: The act of offering is what makes the sacrifice efficient

Owens says God lays the sins of the elect on Christ first, then Christ carries them to the cross and pays the price, actually satisfying justice through His death. The intention, sin transfer, offering, and acceptance are all required. Without them, Christ’s death would not, and could not save anyone. As it stands, you seem to hold to the contradiction that the value of Christ’s death is both sufficient and it requires something else.

Me: "I had asked Turretinfan a question (well 2 questions) that he didn’t answer, so I will ask again: do you consider yourself a determinist and if so, what type of determinist are you?"TF: I think GIMJ needs to read my response more carefully. I indicated that under GIMJ's proffered definition of "determinism" (from the Stanford philosophy web site) Calvinism was obviously not determinism. Since GIMJ knows I am a Calvinist, one might expect him to make the mental connection that was there implicitly.

I believe you were the one who point out there is verity among determinists. Just because you are one type does not mean you are not another. You accuse me of smearing Calvinists, but perhaps you are smearing determinists. From my point of view, LFW and determinism are exhaustive and mutually exclusive. So your attacks of LFW lead me to believe you are a determinist. Perhaps not all Calvinists are. I think in Augustus Hopkins Strong’s attempts to put some space between himself and determinists he ends up putting some space between himself and Edwards; space which I don’t think you would allow.

Here’s Strong’s statements:

But this certainty is not necessity. In reconciling God's decrees with human
freedom, we must not go to the other extreme, and reduce human freedom to mere
determinism, or the power of the agent to act out his character in the
circumstances which environ him. Human action is not simply the expression of
previously dominant affections; else neither Satan nor Adam could have fallen,
nor could the Christian ever sin. We therefore part company with Jonathan
Edwards and his Treatise on the Freedom of the Will, as well as with the younger
Edwards (Works, 1: 420), Alexander (Moral Science, 107), and Charles Hodge
(Syst. Theology, 2 : 278 ), all of whom follow Jonathan Edwards in identifying
sensibility with the will, in regarding affections as the causes of volitions,
and in speaking of the connection between motive and action as a necessary one.
We hold, on the contrary, that sensibility and will are two distinct powers,
that affections are occasions but never causes of volitions, and that, while
motives may infallibly persuade, they never compel the will. The power to make
the decision other than it is resides in the will, though it may never be
exercised. With Charnock, the Puritan (Attributes, 1 : 448-450 ), we say that "
man hath a power to do otherwise than that which God foreknows he will do."
Since, then. God's decrees are not executed by laying compulsion upon human
wills, they are not inconsistent with man's freedom. - Strong’s Systematic Theology, p93.

I don’t know if Strong’s attempts work, but the fact that he’s making the attempt says something. On the question of a necessary connection between motives and action, are you with Strong or Edwards?

TF: Actual ability unless/until used is hypothecated on something. Consequently, there is no meaningful line between "actual" and "hypothetical" ability as to unused ability.

Me: "I disagree. Ability (whether it will be used or not) does not require a hypothesis. Projecting the results might. If he chooses A, B will follow. But the actual ability does not."

TF: Despite GIMJ's disagreement, he's mistaken. One can see that he's mistaken from the fact that he conflates "unless/until used" with "whether it will be used or not." The two concepts are not convertable, though they are related. Ability unless/until used exists in hypothecation. Instantiation or prohibition removes that hypothecation.

Let’s test your hypothesis (pun intended). What’s hypothetical in the statement, God was able to decree to create the world?

God be with you,

Objection 25: Conversion uncertain – Whitby’s refutation of Arguments in favor of irresistible grace

IX. OBJECTION TWENTY-FIVE. Lastly, it is objected, "that the opinion which makes the grace of God resistible, leaves it uncertain whether any one will be converted by it, or not."

ANSWER FIRST. To this I answer, that it leaves it as uncertain whether any one will be unconverted, or not; and surely, that opinion which affords this encouragement to all, that God, notwithstanding their fall, will afford means sufficient to convert them, if they do not neglect and refuse to use them, is much to be preferred before that which tells them he hath from eternity passed an act of preterition on them, and by that excluded them out of the number of the elect, that is, of them who only shall be saved.

ANSWER SECOND. A man may, notwithstanding this opinion, be infallibly certain, otherwise, that many will be found true converts at the last, because he knows that many have already died in the fear of God, and in the faith of Christ, and because the holy scriptures do assure us that ' some shall arise to everlasting life, and receive the end of their faith in the salvation of their souls'

ANSWER THIRD. To say that "it is barely possible in the nature of the thing that none may be converted," hath no inconvenience in it, because it tends not to hinder any man's endeavors after his conversion, any more than the like possibility, — that no man may thrive by his industry, or grow rich by his trading, or have a safe voyage at sea, or a plentiful crop by sowing, or health by taking medicine, — hinders men from doing any of these actions.

It is no imputation upon divine wisdom, that God himself complains he had given his law to the Jews in vain; nor did St. Paul conceive it any defect in the grace of God, that it might be received in vain by the churches of Corinth, (2 Corinthians 6:1) of Galatia, (Galatians 6:4) and of Thessalonica, (1 Thessalonians 3:5) and, by parity of reason, by all other churches. It is possible, that no one " subject may obey the laws of his superior, because they have freewill, and may do evil under the strongest obligations to do well; but should the world be left therefore without human laws, or be governed by irresistible force, or not at all? Nay, rather that freedom which includes a bare possibility that all may disobey, proves the wisdom and justice of governing mankind by laws attended with moral inducements to obedience. Whereas if we suppose men to be under a necessity either of doing what is required, or of doing the contrary, it is very hard to understand how governing them by moral means should be wise in the former case, or just in the latter.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Objections 23 & 24: Reason to boast – Whitby’s refutation of Arguments in favor of irresistible grace

VIII. OBJECTION TWENTY-THREE and TWENTY-FOUR That by this doctrine we administer occasion of boasting to all that are converted and saved, by attributing their conversion and salvation partly to their works; whereas the apostle says, 'by grace are we saved, NOT OF WORK?, lest any man should boast. Moreover, according to the same doctrine, the whole story of conversion will not be due to God, because man co-operates with him; whereas the divine wisdom hath so contrived the business of our salvation, that ' no flesh should glory in his sight '. (1 Corinthians 1:29)

ANSWER. To the first part of the objection taken from Ephesians 2:8, , I have already given a full answer, by showing that these words, ' are we saved by grace through faith' bear this sense, that through the saving grace of God appearing to us by the preaching of the gospel, and believed by us, we are put into a state of salvation; and that all this is done to any church or nation, through the free grace and mercy of God, without any thing done by them antecedently to this grace; and more especially by showing, that though our actual salvation depend upon good works, or on sincere obedience to be performed after faith, yet is all boasting utterly excluded upon several accounts; (i.) because that revelation which contains the matters of our faith, and all the powerful motives to embrace it, and all those miracles which rendered that revelation highly credible, and so engaged us to believe it, is the free gift of God.

(ii.) Because the good works we do, proceed not from ourselves, but are the fruits of that faith, which, in the sense now mentioned, is the gift of God, and from that word and Spirit of God which works in us both to will and to do of his good pleasure. As therefore the apostle says of the gift of tongues and prophecy, ' what (gift) hast thou which thou hast not received; and if thou hast received it, wherefore dost thou boast as if thou had not received it?' so may we here; What faculty of believing, or willing what is good, hast thou which thou hast not received i What motive thus to will, or to believe, which hath not been vouchsafed by the free grace of God: What good work dost thou when this grace hath made thee willing, but in the strength of God, and by the aid of that good Spirit by whom we are " strengthened with might in the 'inward man to do his will?"

And if thou hast received strength from God for the performance of them, wherefore dost thou boast? This being the apostle's rule — that we can boast of nothing but that which we have not received.

Secondly. Though God is pleased to require of us to be willing, yea to 'cease to do evil, and to learn to do well,'(Isaiah 1:16-18), to qualify us for his mercy in the pardon of our sins, to make our faith the condition of justification, aim our good works the condition of salvation; yet is all boasting utterly excluded; because it is still of grace that any of these things do find acceptance.
It is of preventing and exciting grace that we thus will, chose and refuse; of assisting grace, that we are enabled to perform that will, and persist in this choice, or refuse; and of true mercy, that the pardon of all our crimson sins is annexed to so doing; it is of grace that faith is imputed to justification, 'THAT IT MIGHT BE OF GRACE.' (Romans 4:16) It also is of grace that our imperfect works are accounted good, and are at all rewarded by God. Now upon what account can any of us boast of doing that which in itself deserves condemnation, though through grace it finds acceptance? Boasting, says the apostle, is not ' excluded by the law of works,' (Romans 3:27) Because to him that works, the reward is not reckoned of grace but of debt;' (Romans 4:4) Grace and works that deserve justification and salvation, being perfectly opposite one to another; but it is, says he, excluded "by the law of faith.”

Where therefore the acceptance of the act to such a purpose is of free grace; where the reward is still of grace and not of debt; where it is given on the account of works imperfect, and deserving nothing from God,' — there boasting is excluded.

Thirdly. Observe, that the scripture plainly grants that there is 'MATTER OF GLORYING,' in things done by the assistance of the grace God, and it is for the glory of a man to do them. St. Paul says 'it were better for him to die, than that any man should make void HIS BOASTING,' in preaching the gospel without charge. 1 Corinthians 9:15-16. Yea, he swears that 'no man should stop HIS BOASTING in that kind. 2 Corinthians 11:10. And in behalf of all his fellow- workers, or apostles, he says, 'this is our BOASTING, or rejoicing, in the testimony of our conscience.' (2 Corinthians 1:12) And the advice he gives to all Christians 'let every man approve his own work (to his own conscience) and then shall he have BOASTING, or rejoicing, in himself, and not in another! (Galatians 6:4)

The glorying therefore, which the apostle elsewhere doth reject and exclude, is only that of the merit of our works, or their sufficiency to procure the justification of a sinner, (Romans 3:27-4:2) or that which does exclude the help and the assistance of the grace of God in Christ. (1 Corinthians 1:29-31)

To proceed then to that second part of this objection, that " by our doctrine the glory of our conversion will not be wholly due to God, because man co-operates with him;" this, will be sufficiently accounted for by observing that the principle by which man co-operates with him in this work is derived from him, and all the motives which excite this principle to act, arise purely from God's preventing and exciting grace. Now where both the principleof acting, and the sole motives to act, are from God alone, there the whole glory of the Action must be due to him alone. Thus though wealth is the fruit of industry, and it is the 'diligent hand that makes rich;' yet because God gives ' the power to get wealth,' and it is his blessing of our enterprises which make rich the glory of it is due to God alone; and we must say with David, " riches and honor come of thee, and of thine own have we given thee; all this store cometh of thy hand, and it is all thine own.'' (1 Chronicles 29:12-16)

After all our industry to find out wisdom, and to search for her as for hid treasure, we must give the all wise God the glory of all the wisdom we attain to, as knowing that " the Lord giveth wisdom, out of his month cometh understanding." Thus St. Paul says, 'I labor more abundantly than they alI;(1 Corinthians 15:10) and yet ascribes all to 'the grace of God that was in him:' (1 Corinthians 3:6-7) and though ' Paul did plant, and Apollos water, yet because God gave the increase; neither, says he, 'Paul or Apollos to be deemed anything, but all must be ascribed to God that gives the increase."

So when the Apostle says, " it is not of him that wills, nor of him that runs, but of God that shows mercy," (Romans 9:16) most of the Fathers descant thus upon those words, "'it is not of him that wills, nor of him that runs only, but of' God that 'shows mercy, and crowns the work by his assistance;' for otherwise," say, they, "it cannot be our duty either to will or run, provided we can neither by willing, nor by running, do anything to incline God to show mercy. And why then doth God blame us for not willing, (Matthew 23:37, John 5:40) and require us to run that we may obtain (1 Corinthians 9:24, Hebrews 12:1) And whereas against this it is objected, that "according to this interpretation it might be said, it is not of God that shows mercy only, but of men who wills and runs ;" Origen, St. Chrysostom, and Theophyaet answer, that " this follows not, because man's willing and running would not avail without the divine aid to enable him to run, and his grace and mercy to accept his running ; and therefore, according to the custom of the scripture,' the effect" is to be ascribed to the chief agent only, as when it is said, ' except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it'. (Psalm 127:1)

Secondly. Our Lord and his apostles often commend the good actions of men, and Christ will at last say to the righteous man, 'well done, than good and faithful servant.' Therefore he that turns from his evil ways, and does that which is right m the sight of God, is commendable, and does that which is praise-worth. For God does not judge of things or persons otherwise than they are.
If this then be the consequence charged upon our opinion, that "it makes some praise belong to the convert and the believer," God himself owns the truth of it, by requiring us to do what is honorable and praise-worthy, (Philippians 4:8) to suffer our conscience towards God, 'FOR this is thankworthy (1 Peter 2:19-20) and saying, that our faith 'wilt be found to our praise, honor and glory at the revelation of Christ Jesus' (1 Peter 1:7)

The contrary doctrine is liable to this just exception, that it does consequentially assert, that no thanks are due for any kindness received, if he to whom it is done be not merely passive, and if he that receives a kindness be but so much is active in receiving or accepting it, the glory of it redounds to him rather than to the benefactor; so that we must not expect from Christ the praise and glory of feeding his hungry members, unless we put the meat into their mouths; or of ' clothing them when naked,' unless We put the clothes upon them; or of receiving them into our houses, though we do invite and open the door for them, unless we force them in: that he who gives a prisoner money sufficient to pay off his debt, is not to have the glory of his release, if he require the prisoner to tell out, and deliver the money to the creditor; and that the prince who pardons his condemned subject, upon condition that he will plead his pardon, is not to have the sole glory of that pardoning mercy. " And the true consequence from this is," saith Dr. Claget, " that the glory of God's grace wholly depends upon the sullenness and obstinacy of men, and that the only way to advance it, is by a stout opposition and spiteful resistance of it." Part 2. p. 208.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Calvinism and Determinism 3 [response to Turretinfan]

Turretinfan responded on Calvinism and determinism here.

TF: That we are not the reason God chooses us has nothing to do with determinism.

I think most folks would disagree with this statement, but I will let them decide that and won’t argue this point further.

TF: No. As I already said, "actual sufficiency" has to do with intrinsic value. To build on the Scriptural analogy of redemption with a price, the price of Christ's death was enough to save an infinite number of people.

This explanation wouldn’t be an issue if Calvinists only said the value of Christ’s death was sufficient for all. But they say Christ’s death was sufficient for all [meaning the value of Christ’s death was sufficient for all], while in the background, other aspects of Christ’s death move against Christ’s death being sufficient for all. Granted, these other aspects don’t “block” the value of Christ’s death from saving, but perhaps they make use of the value of Christ’s death in such a way that the reprobate remain unsavable. If the reprobate are unsavable, clearly Christ’s death was insufficient for them. Something more than the value of Christ’s death is required. This article suggest that the “something more” is intention, and that intention is implied in the phrase sufficient for all. (link) But whatever the “something else” is, if something more is required from X for Y, X is insufficient for Y. This is why I suspect you are speaking in a divided sense.

To my overall point of checking philosophy against scripture, are there any cases in scripture where Christ’s death is spoken of, meaning that the intrinsic value of the redemption price was enough to save everyone? I ask, because I don’t see Calvinists explaining passages like 1 John2:2 as “the value of Christ’s death was sufficient for all. Rather, I see them explain all texts about Christ’s death as pertaining to the elect alone.

TF: One of the objections in my post is that the term "determinism" was used in GIMJ's post in such a broad umbrella way that basically only the open theists are outside it (n.b. this is true only when considered as to effects, as proposed in GIMJ's post) and yet the term is popularly misunderstood to refer quite narrowly to mechanical/physical determinism and/or fatalism (neither of which corresponds to Calvinism). In other words, the word "determinism" can both be too encompassing (if we measure determinism by the places where Calvinism and Molinism overlap) and too limiting (since Calvinism explicitly rejects physicalism and fatalism).
By saying only open theists fall outside of determinism, you are dismissing the entire Foreknowledge/LFW issue without engaging it. Are you looking for me to argue why foreknowledge doesn’t entail determinism? Isn’t that asking me to prove a negative? I stand ready to defend the citadel. I will not be drawn out into the field for a fight. If you want what’s in the keep, come and get it. I will be happy to kick down your ladders and pour boiling oil on you. But don’t stand in the valley and declare victory.

TF: Molinism is normally represented as God deciding to instantiate a particular future from among possible futures. This is one form of predetermination of the future.

Again, by saying the Molinist explanation of the decrees is a form of predeterminism, you are dismissing Molinism without engaging it.

TF: Actual ability unless/until used is hypothecated on something. Consequently, there is no meaningful line between "actual" and "hypothetical" ability as to unused ability.
I disagree. Ability (whether it will be used or not) does not require a hypothesis. Projecting the results might. If he chooses A, B will follow. But the actual ability does not.

I had asked Turretinfan a question (well 2 questions) that he didn’t answer, so I will ask again: do you consider yourself a determinist and if so, what type of determinist are you?

I’ll add a third. BB Warfield explains that the difference between fate and Calvinism is primarily that fate is mechanical and Calvinism is personal (link). Are you are with Warfield?

God be with you,

Objection 22: Difference Maker – Whitby’s refutation of Arguments in favor of irresistible grace

II. OBJECTION TWENTY-TWO. "If man doth anything towards his conversion, which another neglecting to do is not converted, he makes himself to differ from that other, which yet seems not consistent with St. Paul's enquiry, ' who made thee to differ from another " (1 Corinthians 4:7)

ANSWER. The apostle manifestly speaks here of those extraordinary gifts of the Spirit, the gifts of tongues, and prophecy, &c. on the account of which they were puffed up for one against another, counting one a man of better gifts than another. Now these gifts being immediately infused without human industry, and conferred upon Christians without any such co-operation of their faculties, as is required to the exercise of any Christian duty or moral virtue, it cannot, with like reason, be enquired of these duties, as it may be of those gifts, 'who made thee to differ from another in them? Nor can it from them be duly inferred, that no man does anything to make himself differ from another in any virtue, or pious dispositions. For to what purpose are men continually exhorted and stirred up by powerful motives to all Christian duties, and particularly to excel in virtue, if these exhortations and motives be not proposed to engage them to exercise these Christian virtues, to ' chose the good and refuse the evil.

And if one man, upon consideration of those motives, does chose to live a pious life, whereas another will not be persuaded so to do, does he not differ from that other by virtue of that choice? And though the grace of God by way of excitation works in us thus to will, yet since our faculties do first deliberate upon, and then comply, and chose to do the thing to which this grace excites us; if to consider be to differ from him that does not consider, and to comply with and to embrace the call of God be to differ from him that disobeys the same call, it must be certain, that as God's grace preventing and exciting, so my faculties co-operating, tend to make me differ from another. And does not God himself declare, that men do somewhat to make themselves differ from others, by praising them who did what others neglected to do; as in the case of the Beraeans, (Acts 17:10-11) the elder and the younger son; the publicans and harlots compared with the Scribes and Pharisees, the penitent Publican and the proud Pharisee?

To the question then, when two are equally called, and one converted, who is it that puts the difference? The answer grounded upon God's own righteous judgment will be this, " that man puts the difference, and not God only; because God judges not his own acts, but the acts of men, dealing with every many according to his own works; and because every righteous judge finds a difference and does not make it, where the sentence is so vastly different."

Monday, October 27, 2008

Objections 20 & 21: God works in us – Whitby’s refutation of Arguments in favor of irresistible grace

VI. OBJECTIONS TWENTY and TWENTYONE. "The apostle informs us, Philippians 2:13, that 'it is God that works in us both to will and do;' and prays " he would work in us what is well pleasing in his sight." (Hebrews 13:21) Whatsoever therefore we will, or do, that is good, God does it in us."

ANSWER. That God does this, is not denied; the question is, whether he does it by a physical operation, unfrustrable by the will of man, or by internal suasion or inducements to prevail upon us thus to will and do: And that he does this only in this latter sense, is evident from these very words, " not only in my presence, but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God that works in you, etc."

For if, beyond his inward suggestions and persuasions, some physical and irresistible operation were required on God's part, which makes it necessary for us to will and do, why are we then commanded to " work out our own salvation?" For can we act where we are purely passive? Or can that be a reason why we ourselves should work, that another will effectually do that very thing without our co-operation? Is it not rather a manifest reason why we should neither will, nor work at all, since both is and will be irresistibly performed without us?

(ii.) Why are we bid to work out our salvation with 'fear and trembling? For can there be any cause of fear lest that salvation should not be wrought out, which God works in us irresistibly? Surely if God unfrustrably works in us both to will and do, there can be no possibility of our miscarrying, and so no ground for fear and trembling.

iii.) Why are the Philippians exhorted to do this, 'much more in St. Paul's absence than in his presence if when he was present God wrought in them-irresistibly to will and do, and could do no more in his absence, surely no reason can be given of these words but this, — that whereas he being present stirred them up by his counsels and exhortations to do what was according to the mind of God, they in his absence were immediately excited to those things by the suggestions of the Holy Spirit.

Secondly. That the word enegpein doth not require, this sense is evident, because in scripture it occurs very often, where it must be understood not of a physical but only of a moral operation; as when Satan is said, ' TO WORK IN the children of disobedience,' and the mystery of iniquity ' to work.' (Ephesians 2:2)

(ii.) When it is attributed to those causes which produce not their effects by a physical, but only by a moral operation, as when the word is said to be, energes POWERFUL; (Hebrews 4:12) the word o energeitas, 'WHICH WORKS EFFECTUALLY in them that believe; (1 Thessalonians 2:13) when it is said that 'faith works by love; (Galatians 5:4) that ' charity is EFFECTUAL; (Philemon 1:6) and of concupiscence, that' IT WORKETH IN our members.'
(iii.) When it is ascribed to God sending upon men, the efficacy of deceit; for surely God works no evil physically.

Thirdly. Both these places speak of men already believing and converted, and therefore, by the third general rule, must be impertinently alleged to prove men must be purely passive in the work of conversion.