Thursday, October 28, 2010

Francis Turretin's Mystical Sense of Romans 9

How does Francis Turretin respond to the fact that in Romans 9:11 Paul quotes from Genesis 25:23 wherein the election of Jacob and Esau related to national blessings, rather than individual salvation? "The answer is although that announcement may be extended to the posterity also (Gen. 25:23; Mal. 1:3) and, in the historical sense, may be referred to the blessing or external appointment to dominion or servitude, still this does not hinder it from being referred (in a mystical sense) properly to election and reprobation with respect to the fathers themselves."
I agree that Paul was using the OT examples of Jacob and Esau to teach more than national election. But I think pointing out that in the OT the passages were national does a lot to blunt the idea that Romans 9 is obviously Calvinistic. Turretin has to retreat to a mystical sense, which inherently seems more prone to be open to a range of interpretations. If Jacob and Esau were just types, how do we know they were types of unconditional individual election and reprobation rather than types of God's promise vs. works? After all, the lead in context seems to strongly indicate that God planned to save via God's promise, not nationality or works.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Novatian on Free Will

And after these things He also placed man at the head of the world, and man, too, made in the image of God, to whom He imparted mind, and reason, and foresight, that he might imitate God; and although the first elements of his body were earthly, yet the substance was inspired by a heavenly and divine breathing. And when He had given him all things for his service, He willed that he alone should be free. And lest, again, an unbounded freedom should fall into peril, He laid down a command, in which man was taught that there was no evil in the fruit of the tree; but he was forewarned that evil would arise if perchance he should exercise his free will, in the contempt of the law that was given. For, on the one hand, it had behoved him to be free, lest the image of God should, unfittingly be in bondage; and on the other, the law was to be added, so that an unbridled liberty might not break forth even to a contempt of the Giver. So that he might receive as a consequence both worthy rewards and a deserved punishment, having in his own power that which he might choose to do, by the tendency of his mind in either direction: whence, therefore, by envy, mortality comes back upon him; seeing that, although he might escape it by obedience, he rushes into it by hurrying to be God under the influence of perverse counsel. (link)

Clement of Alexandria on John 6:45

Everything, then, which falls under a name, is originated, whether they will or not. Whether, then, the Father Himself draws to Himself everyone who has led a pure life, and has reached the conception of the blessed and incorruptible nature; or whether the free-will which is in us, by reaching the knowledge of the good, leaps and bounds over the barriers, as the gymnasts say; yet it is not without eminent grace that the soul is winged, and soars, and is raised above the higher spheres, laying aside all that is heavy, and surrendering itself to its kindred element. (The Stromata Book V)

Aristotelian Causality and the Pointlessness of Atheism

Aristotle places great emphasis on understanding causes. "For Aristotle, a firm grasp of what a cause is, and how many kinds of causes there are, is essential for a successful investigation of the world around us."  Aristotle uses the famous four causes to explain why questions:

•The material cause: “that out of which”, e.g., the bronze of a statue.
•The formal cause: “the form”, “the account of what-it-is-to-be”, e.g., the shape of a statue.
•The efficient cause: “the primary source of the change or rest”, e.g., the artisan, the art of bronze-casting the statue, the man who gives advice, the father of the child.
•The final cause: “the end, that for the sake of which a thing is done”, e.g., health is the end of walking, losing weight, purging, drugs, and surgical tools.

Understanding these four causes is vital: an explanation which fails to invoke all four causes is no explanation at all.  Many causal analyses today look mainly to efficient causes and see final causes as above and beyond causal analysis.  Aristotle would see this approach as deficient, not only did he include final causes, but he gave explanatory priority of the final cause over the efficient cause.  He did not limit his search of final causes or the goal to the effects of rational agents; even natural causes show design and understanding that design is vital to understanding "the why". 

For example, why cannot it be merely a coincidence that the front teeth grow sharp and suitable for tearing the food and the molars grow broad and useful for grinding the food (Phys. 198 b 23-27)? When the teeth grow in just this way, then the animal survives. When they do not, then the animal dies...

Aristotle's reply is that the opponent is expected to explain why the teeth regularly grow in the way they do: sharp teeth in the front and broad molars in the back of the mouth. Moreover, since this dental arrangement is suitable for biting and chewing the food that the animal takes in, the opponent is expected to explain the regular connection between the needs of the animal and the formation of its teeth. Either there is a real causal connection between the formation of the teeth and the needs of the animal, or there is no real causal connection and it just so happens that the way the teeth grow is good for the animal. In this second case it is just a coincidence that the teeth grow in a way that it is good for the animal. But this does not explain the regularity of the connection. Where there is regularity there is also a call for an explanation, and coincidence is no explanation at all.

All quotations are from Andrea Falcon's fine article on Aristotelian Causality.
Darwinism responds with survival of the fittest - animals (and their predecessors) with broad teeth in the front died off because they are unsuited to survival.  When we cannot find dental records of such animals, Darwin refers us to the mystery of countless past ages.  But at bottom there is no answer to the why; no design.  As for atheism, this lack of explanation of "the why" runs deep; to the core really.  According to Bertrand Russell "The universe is just there, and that's all."  No design in nature, no point to the universe, no afterlife or ultimate goal for man; everything remains ultimately unexplained with regard to final causality.  How sad in contrast to the fullness of life Christ offers us.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Justin Martyr on Free Will

“But that you may not have a pretext for saying that Christ must have been crucified, and that those who transgressed must have been among your nation, and that the matter could not have been otherwise, I said briefly by anticipation, that God, wishing men and angels to follow His will, resolved to create them free to do righteousness; possessing reason, that they may know by whom they are created, and through whom they, not existing formerly, do now exist; and with a law that they should be judged by Him, if they do anything contrary to right reason: and of ourselves we, men and angels, shall be convicted of having acted sinfully, unless we repent beforehand. But if the word of God foretells that some angels and men shall be certainly punished, it did so because it foreknew that they would be unchangeably [wicked], but not because God had created them so. (Dialogue with Trypho)

Is Sola Scriptura Biblical?

Not really, there are no passages teaching that doctrine. In fact, scripture gives us several examples of infallible oral teachings, including the Prophets, Christ’s earthly ministry, and even the Apostles. But sola scriptura is about the post-apostolic age! Well there are yet future examples as well, such as the two witnesses in Revelations and Christ Himself when He returns.

Now don’t get me wrong, the bible declares itself to be authoritative and sufficient for salvation. The bible says “Scriptura”; it’s the “sola” part that it doesn’t say.

So why then, do I believe in the Sola of Sola-Scripture? For the same reasons Luther gave at the Diet of Worms: "Unless I am convicted by Scripture and plain reason "I do not accept the authority of popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other, my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe." Popes and councils have contradicted themselves and scriptures, so they cannot have the same authority as scripture, let alone the authority to interpret scripture, which at a practical level is a greater authority than scripture.

This is of course in opposition to Roman Catholicism, but it also is in opposition to presuppostional apologetics, which presupposes sola scriptura as one of its most fundamental axioms, rather than accepting it based on evidence.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Justin Martyr against Fate

But neither do we affirm that it is by fate that men do what they do, or suffer what they suffer, but that each man by free choice acts rightly or sins.... The Stoics, not observing this, maintained that all things take place according to the necessity of fate. But since God in the beginning made the race of angels and men with free-will, they will justly suffer in eternal fire the punishment of whatever sins they have committed. And this is the nature of all that is made, to be capable of vice and virtue. For neither would any of them be praiseworthy unless there were power to turn to both [virtue and vice]. (The Second Apology)

Friday, October 15, 2010

Irenaeus on Matthew 23:37

This expression [of our Lord], “How often would I have gathered thy children together, and thou wouldest not,”set forth the ancient law of human liberty, because God made man a free [agent] from the beginning, possessing his own power, even as he does his own soul, to obey the behests of God voluntarily, and not by compulsion of God. For there is no coercion with God, but a good will [towards us] is present with Him continually. And therefore does He give good counsel to all. And in man, as well as in angels, He has placed the power of choice (for angels are rational beings), so that those who had yielded obedience might justly possess what is good, given indeed by God, but preserved by themselves....

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Oecumenius on 1 Peter 2:8

1 Peter 2:8(b) They stumble, being disobedient to the word, to which they also were appointed.

God is not to be held responsible for this, for no cause of damnation can come from him who wants everyone to be saved. It is they who have made themselves into vessels of wrath, and unbelief has followed naturally from that. Therefore they have been established in the order for which they have prepared themselves. For if a human being is made with free will, that free will cannot be forced, nor can anyone accuse him who has decreed their fate of having done anything to them which they did not fully deserve as a result of their own actions. (Oecumenius. Commentary on 1 Peter. Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture. New Testament XI. Oden.)

Arminius handles Plancius

Here's a good post on how Arminius dealt with some of the wild accusations brought against him written by Derek Ouellette at Covenant of Love.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Hodge against the Eternality of the World

Surprisingly, despite Genesis 1:1, some Christian theologians hold that the world is eternal. An example today would be someone like Calvinist philosopher Paul Helm. While I disagree with Hodge on soteriology, I did enjoy his brief summary of the arguments from Christians in favor of an eternal world and his responses to those arguments.