Friday, August 28, 2009

Friday Files: Hamilton - The Order of Faith and Election in John's Gospel

Robert Hamilton makes a very good case that passages such as John 10:26 'you do not believe, because you are not my sheep' refers primarily to the faithful sons of Abraham who were God’s children under the covenant as it was revealed in the Old Testament, and who were already prepared by their voluntary faith and repentance to embrace the promised Messiah. (link)

Hamilton starts out by distinguishing between necessary and sufficient conditions for salvation in the Gospel of John. First, there are the necessary conditions of being “enabled” to come to Christ and being “drawn” to him by the Father (6:44, 65). Necessary conditions are signaled in the passages above by the grammatical structure “No one can . . . unless . . .” Second, we find in the above passages from John’s Gospel the sufficient conditions of being “given” to Jesus by the Father, having “listened to” and “learned from” the Father, “belonging” to God (i.e., being his child, cf. the contrast to the children of the devil in 8:44), and being one of Jesus’ “sheep” (6:37, 45; 8:47; 10:26, 29; 17:6, 9, 24). Sufficient conditions are generally signaled by phrases such as “Everyone who . . .” (6:45; Greek pas ho . . .) or “All that . . . will . . .” (6:37; Greek pan ho . . .), indicating that every person without exception who meets the relevant conditions will experience the result entailed by those conditions. The focus of Hamilton's essay are the passages addressing the sufficient conditions for salvation.

Hamilton pours through the scriptures in explaining that in the OT the nation of Israel were God's 'people' and His 'sheep' and His 'children'. In another more restrictive sense those who are in a right covenant relationship with God are His people, sheep and children, and that covenant relationship is conditional based on repentance and faith. Also, John the Baptist makes ready a people prepared for the Lord. So the Gospel of John deals with Jews who had responded favorably to the prevenient grace extended to them by God under the covenant as it was revealed in the Old Testament. Hamilton also explains they had already made the free choice to be “on the side of truth” (18:37) and to yield themselves in repentance and loyalty to God. Consequently, God could, by the inner working of his Holy Spirit in their hearts, direct all of these faithful ones who already belonged to him to embrace Jesus, the Messiah-Shepherd, as the new focal-point of their faith and loyalty.

This demonstrates one of the main themes of the Gospel of John, the union between the Father and the Son, by answering and important doubt: did the leaders’ rejection of Jesus indicate that he was, in fact, not sent from God to shepherd the flock of Israel? On the contrary, Christ is the Father’s sole aim in the dispensing of prevenient grace.

Hamilton also touches on how this idea relates to the gentiles, Acts 13:48, Cornelius and a number of other texts in the Gospel of John.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Book Review: Rowe - Can God be Free?

William Rowe's book asks the question: Can God be Free? First, he gives an interesting historical introduction to the subject covering the views of Gottfried Leibniz, Samuel Clarke, Thomas Aquinas, and Jonathan Edwards; meanwhile he chimes in with his critique of their views from time to time. Then he discusses more recent treatments, such as Adams, Kretzmann, Howard-Snyder, Morris, Hasker, Wainwright, Langtry, Menssen, Wierenga, Flint, Swinburne, and Talbott. Rowe seems to hold that libertarian freedom is necessary for responsibility and he dismisses compatiblism as 'language gone on holiday'. Based on Leibniz's argument that God must have created the best of all possible worlds, Rowe argues a forking maneuver: either creation was necessary and God is not praiseworthy or God doesn't exist.

Historic Overview

Leibniz articulated two ideas that vital to the discussion. The first is the Principle of Sufficient Reason (PSR), which states: there ought to be a reason why things should be so, and not otherwise (9). Both Clarke and Leibniz affirmed this principle in their debate, but Clarke meant something other than Leibniz did and Leibniz questioned if Clarke clearly understood it. Clarke indicated that sometimes "the mere will of God" is the only sufficient reason; providing the example of God's choice to create the universe here and not some other part of absolute space (Clarke was a Neutonian in physics) (11). Leibniz saw this move as bootstrapped. Leibniz's second idea was the Principle of Best: God never prefers the less perfect to the more perfect (20). Leibniz notes God is bound by moral necessity, to make things in such a manner that there can be nothing better: otherwise... he would not be satisfied with his work, he would blame himself for its imperfection; and that conflicts with the supreme felicity of the divine nature (17). This immediately threatens God's libertarian free will. Rowe gives the example of God thinking about creating a good world or a bad world. To say that God freely created the good world seems to imply that he was free not to do so, that he could have created the inferior world, or refrained from creating either world. But if his perfect goodness requires him to create the good world, how is it possible that he was free to create the inferior world or not to create any world? (13) Leibniz suggests a compatiblist solution; the distinction between moral and natural necessity corresponding to the distinction between certainty and necessity. Thus it was certain that God create the good world, but not necessary that He do so. Rowe rejects Leibniz's solution as inconsistent, given Leibniz's principles.

Next Rowe reviews Leibniz's libertarian opponent, Samuel Clarke. Clarke held God is unable to sin but he also holds God is all powerful. He reconciles the two by saying "it is no diminution of power not to be able to do things which are no object of power. And it is in like manner no diminution either of power or liberty to have such a perfect and unalterable rectitude of will as never possibly to choose to do anything inconsistent with that rectitude. (30) Rowe points out that while this doesn't diminish God's power, it does diminish God's freedom; God is not free to sin. Then he extends this idea to God's goodness and creating the best possible world and concludes God is not free to create other worlds.

Then Rowe reviews Thomas Aquinas. Rowe claims Aquinas held God necessarily wills His own goodness and God necessarily had to create some world to share or diffuse His own goodness. While it's true Aquinas taught God necessarily wills His own goodness, Aquinas explicitly denied creation was necessary. Aquinas states: "God, therefore, can will the non-existence of anything whatever apart from Himself. Hence, it is not of necessity that things other than Himself exist." (Summa Contra Gentiles Book 1 Chapter 81 - THAT GOD DOES NOT WILL OTHER THINGS IN A NECESSARY WAY) Rowe seems mislead on this point by Aquinas' statement: "Moreover, the communication of being and goodness arises from goodness. This is evident from the very nature and definition of the good. By nature, the good of each thing is its act and perfection. Now, each thing acts in so far as it is in act, and in acting it diffuses being and goodness to other things. Hence, it is a sign of a being’s perfection that it “can produce its like,” as may be seen from the Philosopher in Meteorologica IV [3]. Now, the nature of the good comes from its being something appetible. This is the end, which also moves the agent to act. That is why it is said that the good is diffusive of itself and of being. But this diffusion befits God because, as we have shown above, being through Himself the necessary being, God is the cause of being for other things. God is, therefore, truly good." (Summa Contra Gentiles Book 1 Chapter 37 ) Commenting on this text, Rowe states: "The difficulty with viewing God's creation of some world or other as a free act is that God's goodness is a necessary aspect of his nature, and if goodness is necessarily 'diffusive of itself' then it would seem to be necessary that God express his goodness in crating some world or another." (37) But Aquinas isn't saying goodness is necessarily diffusive of itself. He's saying God can and did diffuse goodness. In other words, when God created the world and said "it is good", this is evidence that God is good.

Aquinas also said there is no 'best world'; rather there are an infinite number of possible worlds. From this, Rowe concludes that Aquinas taught there is an infinitely increasing number of better and better possible worlds without reaching a 'best'. I am not sure if this is necessary conclusion or not; there could be an infinite number of equivalently good worlds. But in any case this view becomes Rowe's main opposition throughout the rest of his book.

Rowe concludes his review of the history of the issue with Jonathan Edwards. Edwards taught that God's creation of this world was necessary, given God's nature, but still maintained God created it freely (link). Edwards used compatibilism to reconcile the apparent discrepancy. He distinguished between the power to do something and the power to will to do something; which led him to distinguish between natural and moral inability. Edwards asserted we had the power to do otherwise if we willed to, but not the power to will to. (59) Rowe combats this notion based on moral intuitions and case law involving the ability to choose otherwise.

Contemporary Overview

Rowe then moves into more recent discussion of the issue of God's freedom. Robert Adams argued that it wouldn't be immoral for God to create a less than optimal world because no one is harmed in the process. Those not created are unharmed, because they don't exist. Those created are better off existing than not existing. (80) Rowe counters that perhaps God is not morally obligated to create the best world, but doing so is a supererogatory act - a good act beyond the call of duty. (82) Adams argues that God's love is unconditional; not based on the merits of the one loved, so God's choice can't be based on the best possible creation. (83) Rowe objects that then love is not the reason God creates this or that world.

Rowe posits: If an omniscient being creates a world where there is a better world that it could have created, then it is possible that there exists a being morally better than it. (91) So in the scenario with an infinite number of increasingly better worlds with none being best, if God creates world 100 and could have created 101, it is possible there exists a being morally better than God. Howerd-Snyder counters that any being led by such a principle is irrational and hence not omniscient, nor would he ever create, given for each world there is one better. (94) Rowe counters that within a segment of infinity, say worlds 100 to 200, if God creates world 150 then it's possible that a being morally better than God would have create a world higher than 150. Wierenga counters that God rejected an infinite number of worse worlds and an infinite number of better worlds. That's true if God creates 150, 175 or 200. It's impossible for God to create a world with none better and therefore God is not obligated to do so. (135) In a revealing response, Rowe objects that the incremental difference between 175 and 174 is the same, but once you get to one, the increment decreases. Thus you go from 1 to 1/2 to 1/4 and so forth. Ultimately, there is no appreciable, felt difference to any sentient being. (136) Further, this view amounts to saying "God is free only when it does not matter what he does". (140)

Rowe concludes his review of the contemporary debate by rejecting Talbott's compatiblistic solution as 'language gone on holiday'. (149) Rowe concludes the book by giving his theistic opponents two options; it doesn't matter which world God creates or God necessarily created the world he did.

My Reactions

Scripture plainly asserts God has both ultimate responsibility (Genesis 1:1) and alternative possibilities (Matthew 3:9, Matthew 26:53, Ephesians 3:20). When something leaves the hand of the Creator, it is and must be good ( Genesis 1:31) but we, via our own freedom, can make ourselves worse off (2 Peter 2:21, Matthew 26:24). God's asseity means He does not need us for His blessedness (Romans 9:5) but our blessedness is contingent (Matthew 5:1-10). So from the perspective of God's blessedness , goodness, holiness and justice all worlds are equivalent, but from the perspective of our blessedness, there is an infinity of increasingly better worlds with none best. We could be better off, but God could not.

I think the idea that God chose to create the best possible world is self-contradictory. If God can't create a world, it's not a possible world. It's not causally possible, because God can't create it. It's not logically possible because God's creating the world implies the contradiction of a unwise, all wise God. Something would have to be as good as God for God to have to create it, which is impossible. Ultimately, the idea that God had to create this world ascribes to creation what belongs to the Creator and undermines God's sovereignty, in that God's not in control, His holiness in that He had to create evil and His omnipotence in that He can't do anything other than what has and will happen. So for me, Leibniz's idea is off the table.

When pressed by Adams and Wierenga, who basically question Rowe's standard for defining 'best' or his scales for judging God's morality, Rowe retreats from his argument that 'possibly there exists a being morally better than God' to 'it doesn't matter which world God creates'. This contradicts his holding to libertarian freedom and accepting agent causation. How is agent causation satisfies the Principle of Sufficient Reason for man, but not for God? What's happening here is Rowe is looking at the first link in a chain and asking what comes before it. He seeks an integer lower than one. God's will is the first cause; so looking for the cause of God's will seems pointless.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Friday Files: Benson on John 6

Benson's comments on the 'giving' and 'drawing' in John 6 (Volume 4 pages 563-565) are reasonably simple. First, Benson notes the passage teaches man's depravity; no man can believe in Christ to the saving of his soul, unless God give him power. The Father draws men to Christ by the several proofs wherewith he has supported his mission, by the doctrine of his gospel, and by those influences of his grace, which are necessary to give men a right discernment of the evidences of religion, and of the certainly and importance of the great truths of it, and to impress these things deeply on their minds. This drawing is powerful but not irresistible as can be seen in Jeremiah 31:3 "With loving kindness have drawn thee", John 12:32 "If l be lifted up from the earth I will draw all men unto me", and Hosea 11:4, God "drew Israel with the cords of a man, with bands of love". Finally, God gives to Christ all that hearken to the teaching of my Father, and in consequence thereof see themselves to be in a lost estate, guilty, depraved, weak, and wretched, and therefore follow the drawings of his grace and they trust Christ for their salvation.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Minor Mistranslation in the Works of James Arminius

I was confussed something Arminius said in his response to Perkins so I looked it up in the original Latin. Turns out it was a mistranslation.

In the former case [the creation of animals, plants…], the good communicated is limited, as each creature receives that which is appropriate to itself, according to the diversity of their natures, but, in the latter [the creation of men and angels], there is a communication of supreme and infinite good, which is God, in the union with whom consists the happiness of rational creatures. Reason demanded that this communication should be made contrary to justice, wherefore He gave a law to His creatures, obedience to which was made the condition on which that communication should be made. Therefore, this was the first decree concerning the final cause of rational creatures, and the glory of God to be illustrated by justice and the highest goodness — highest as to the good to be communicated, not absolutely; by goodness joined to justice, in the case of those who should be made partakers of the highest good, through steadfastness in the truth; by punitive justice, in the case of those who should make themselves unworthy of it by their disobedience. (link)

The bolded sentence in the original Latin was:

Postulavit autem ratio, ut ista communicatio non fieret citra justitiam, quare legem dedit istis creaturis fuis, in cuius obedientia conditionem posuit, sub qua communicatio ista sieret

Instead of “should be made contrary to justice” it should be rendered “should not be made without regard to justice”. The idea isn’t injustice, nor is it mercy. Rather, God desired to declare His justice in sharing Himself with men and angels.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Friday Files: Benson on Acts 13:48

Joseph Benson makes several key points in his commentaries on Acts 13:48 page 772. He argues that the Calvinist translation of tasso entails reprobation and impugns the God's character. He argues that the Calvinist view breaks down the parallel of the rejection in verse 46 with the acceptance in verse 48. He notes that tasso is never understood as predestination and is frequently dispose, place, or appoint.

Benson then makes a vital point: "the Syriac, likewise, one of the most ancient versions of the New Testament, has rendered the passage in the same sense, which is of great moment, as that translation was made before the meaning of this place was disputed by the different sects and parties of Christians." Benson then he shows that a wide array of scholars translate tasso as 'disposed' rather than 'ordained' including: Doddridge, Hammond, Heylin, Waterland, Whitby, Dodd and Sellon.

Benson concludes: "the sum is: All those, and only those, now believed, who yielded to, instead of resisting the convictions produced in their minds by the preaching of the truth, and the influence of the grace of God, which truth was preached with equal clearness to others, and which grace, in a similar way, visited and strove with others: for God had not reprobated the rest. It was his will that they also should have been saved, but by yielding to inclinations, affections, and passions, which they themselves knew to be sinful, and to which they were under no necessity of yielding, they rejected the counsel of God against themselves, and thrust salvation from them. For they who then repented and believed were not constrained so to do, but grace and mercy were then freely and copiously offered to them, and pressed upon them, and they did not put it away, but yielded to its influence. So that a great multitude, even of such as, it seems, had been idolatrous Gentiles, were converted."

Benson's position represents a middle road between Wesley's "successful prevenient grace" and Whitby's "they disposed themselves"; in that God disposed them for eternal life.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Chrysostom on the 'drawing' and 'giving' in John 6

Chrysostom makes a great point. John 6:45 really helps explain John 6:37 and 44. God teaches and we learn, if we choose to, but some choose not to learn. Those that learn from the Father are the Father's. (John 17:6) The Father gives those that learn to the Son. Here are the passages and Chrysostom's comments [emphasis mine]:

John 6:37
All that the Father gives Me shall come to Me, and him that comes to Me I will in nowise cast out.

But perhaps some one will say, If all that the Father gives, and whomsoever He shall draw, comes unto You, if none can come unto You except it be given him from above, then those to whom the Father gives not are free from any blame or charges. These are mere words and pretenses. For we require our own deliberate choice also, because whether we will be taught is a matter of choice, and also whether we will believe. And in this place, by the which the Father gives Me, He declares nothing else than that the believing on Me is no ordinary thing, nor one that comes of human reasonings, but needs a revelation from above, and a well-ordered soul to receive that revelation. (link)

John 6:44
No man can come unto Me, except the Father which has sent Me draw Him.

The Manich├Žans spring upon these words, saying, that nothing lies in our own power; yet the expression shows that we are masters of our will. For if a man comes to Him, says some one, what need is there of drawing? But the words do not take away our free will, but show that we greatly need assistance. And He implies not an unwilling comer, but one enjoying much succor.

How then, says some one, does the Father draw? This the Prophet explained of old, when he proclaimed beforehand, and said, John 6:45 They shall all be taught of God. Isaiah 54:13

Do you see the dignity of faith, and that not of men nor by man, but by God Himself they shall learn this? And to make this assertion credible, He referred them to their prophets. If then 'all shall be taught of God,' how is it that some shall not believe? Because the words are spoken of the greater number. Besides, the prophecy means not absolutely all, but all that have the will. For the teacher sits ready to impart what he has to all, and pouring forth his instruction unto all. (link)

John 6:65
And He said, Therefore said I unto you, that no man can come unto Me except it were given unto Him from above from My Father.

...when you hear that He has given, imagine not merely an arbitrary distribution, but that if any has rendered himself worthy to receive the gift, he has received it. (link)

Monday, August 3, 2009

My Most Popular Post

For whatever reason, this post get's the most hits by a rather wide margin and has consistently over time.

Perhaps it's the subject matter of the post, or perhaps it's the Star Trek analogy that triggers google searches (although people do seem to spend time on the page). Another interesting thing is that there are very few comments, but posts that generated lots of comments don't get read near as often. Hum... Not sure what to make of it.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

The Enemy of my Enemy

Calvinist Greg Welty states: Clearly then, the controversy between Calvinists and non-Calvinists over unconditional election is not the Calvinists’ assertion that God elects some for salvation, since non-Calvinists believe this too. Rather, the controversy is over the Calvinists’ negative claim, namely, the denial that divine election unto salvation is on the basis of works or foreseen faith. (link) It's interesting to me that while Calvinists are not united on the doctrine of election; they all agree Arminianism is wrong. So as opposed to formulating the doctrine of election in a positive assertion unique to Calvinism, they simply deny the Arminian view of foreseen faith. This has it's roots in the supra vs. sub lapsarian controversy. If they all agreed that God choose from among pre-fallen man or post-fallen man they could form such a positive assertion. But since they disagree on this point, they go with the enemy of my enemy approach and target Arminianism.

The problem is this "raises the bar". Calvinists must now shoulder the difficult task of proving a negative – they must specifically take out Arminianism. So instead of showing XYZ is taught in scripture (or the preponderance of evidence leans that way), which is all the Arminian must do; Calvinist must show ABC is denied in scripture (not just ‘not taught’, but explicitly denied). In short, internal disagreements within Calvinism require them to shoulder an a-symmetrical burden of proof in comparison to Arminianism.