Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Voetius on Middle Knowledge

Recently, Scott Clark rescued an anti-Molinist quote by Voetius from the brink of oblivion.

From the points which have been so far upheld against middle knowledge it is clear that the whole difficulty in the present controversy reduces to this one point: Could free conditioned things, from eternity indifferent by nature to futurition or nonfuturition, have passed over into the state of a future event otherwise than by the divine decree? This is the fundamental of fundamentals, on which the whole weight of the case rests. This is that postulate, which both we cannot concede to our adversaries and they cannot prove to us. …Middle knowledge is effective and congruous for any end by its nature. Upon it God is forced to wait in the wise framing of His decrees, which are bound to have a fixed result. The truth or falsity of future conditioned free ones is not known from their causes or from the divine decree, but from the actual occurrence of the thing. Before every act of His will God can see certainty in things quite uncertain by their nature. In short, there is an ens independent of the supreme ens.” (See Heppe’s Reformed Dogmatics, 80ff.). (link)

Voetius’ question is a bit ambiguous. In Molinism, God’s decree comes after middle knowledge but before free knowledge. So it’s not true that anything has ‘passed over into a state of a future event’ prior to God’s decree.

But perhaps Voetius is asking if God’s decree isn’t what determines what free creatures will do, what does? The answer is of course God’s free creatures. God has freedom to choose this or that and He has given us a limited amount of freedom as well.

On the other hand, perhaps Voetius’ is asking about counterfactuals of freedom. Logically prior to God’s middle knowledge, we can choose this or that, but it is not true that we would choose this over that. When we get to middle knowledge, it is true that we would choose this over that. How does it become true apart from a divine decree? The answer is that statements about what we would choose do not become true. In natural knowledge (the moment logically prior to middle knowledge in which God knows everything that can happen) what we would do under this or that circumstance is not taken into consideration at all. It’s not as if counterfactual statements are untrue in natural knowledge and change into being true in middle knowledge. Rather, in natural knowledge, there are no counterfactual statements at all; true or otherwise. In middle knowledge, statements about what we would do in this or that circumstance, are either true or false.

Finally, Voetius says freewill amounts to something existing apart from God’s supreme existence (ens). But this overlooks both God’s concurrence and the distinction between exercise and specification. It overlooks God’s concurrence, in which God upholds the existence of the effects of secondary causes. It overlooks the distinction between exercise and specification, in that God determines that we choose and we determine what we choose.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Friday Files: Benson on Proverbs 16:1

Benson’s comments on Proverbs 16:1 are short and sweet so here are his words:

Proverbs 16:1 To man belong the plans of the heart, but from the LORD comes the reply of the tongue.

That is, in short, 1st, Man may purpose; he hath a freedom of thought and of will permitted him; he may form his projects, and lay his schemes as he thinks best; but, after all, 2d, God disposeth ; he easily can, and often does, cross man's purposes, and break his measures: nor can man proceed with success in any undertaking, nor carry into execution any design, without God's assistance and blessing. It was a curse that was prepared in Balaam's heart, but the answer of the tongue was a blessing.

Friday, April 16, 2010

John Martin Fisher vs. the WCF

The Westminister Confession (a popular Calvinistic confession) states:

I. God has endued the will of man with that natural liberty, that is neither forced, nor, by any absolute necessity of nature, determined good, or evil. (link)

Yet Fisher invites us to imaging a world in which causal determinism is true:

"even if he were to wake up to the headline, "Causal Determinism is True!" (and he were convinced of its truth). Nor need the compatibilist give up any of his basic metaphysical views — apparently apriori metaphysical truths that support his views about free will — simply because the theoretical physicists have established that the relevant probabilities are 100 percent rather than 99 percent. Wouldn't it be bizarre to give up a principle such as that the past is fixed and out of our control or that logical truths are fixed and out of our control, simply because one has been convinced that the probabilities in question are 100 percent rather than 99 percent. A compatibilist need not "flipflop" in this weird and unappealing way." (link)

Science is not going to discover that materialism or naturalism is true - man has an immaterial soul which includes our will. While Calvinists may in some sense 'baptize' Fisher's arguments (including ones that LFW makes choices appear random), they cannot really be accepted 'as is' without modification.

Friday, April 9, 2010


Robert Doyle Smith's articles JOHN WESLEY AND JONATHAN EDWARDS ON RELIGIOUS EXPERIENCE: A COMPARATIVE ANALYSIS, summarizes the similarities and differences between John Wesley and Jonathan Edwards. Of course they disagreed on Calvinism/Arminianism. But they strongly agreed that the beginning of conversion is realizing that you are a sinner in need of God's grace and both of their preaching styles reflected that ideal. They disagreed on the topics of the imputed righteousness of Christ and also entire sanctification.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Friday Files: Abasciano - Clearing Up Misconceptions about Corporate Election

In Brian Abasciano's article Clearing Up Misconceptions about Corporate Election, he explains that corporate election is primarily corporate and secondarily individual, but it’s a mistake to think of corporate election to the exclusion of the individual. In corporate election, the election of the group is a consequence of the election of the corporate head and representative. Thus the nation of Israel is chosen in Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and believers are chosen in Christ. Just as in OT times, individuals were free to join or leave the group, so also, in the new covenant, individuals are free to join or leave.

Next, Brian deals with misconceptions about Corporate Election. He addresses the misconception that Corporate Election Excludes Individuals by pointing out that although election is primarily corporate, it's secondarily individual. This misconception is cleared up primarily by reviewing the definition and explanation of corporate election.

Brian addresses the misconception that Corporate Election Is Not the Election of People, but Merely the Election of an Empty Set, by pointing out that Christ, the corporate head is chosen first, so 'the set' is never empty. Further, while stating that before the foundation of the world, it is true only Christ is in the covenant, Christ represents and embodies the group. Brian supports this point by pointing to the biblical language of God's choice of Jacob as being the choice of the Nation of Israel (Gen. 25:23, Mal. 1:2-3). Brian contrasts this explanation to the 'foreseen faith' view - in fact foreknowledge in Romans 8:29 and 1 Peter 1:2 means a "prior acknowledgement of a people as God's covenant partners". Brian also explains Ephesians 1:4, showing that the phrase 'in him [Christ]' implies Christ's election which in turn means we share in Christ's election as we are united to Christ.

Brian clears up the misconception that the Concept of a Primarily Corporate Election Is Illogical, which was advanced primarily by Thomas Schreiner. Brian uses a baseball team example as well as the biblical examples of Rahab and Ai. Schreiner argues that individuals must be elected to become part of a group in order to speak coherently of group election. But the members of Rahab's family were not selected to be members of her family when Rahab was told anyone in her house would be spared.

Brian clears up the misconception that Corporate Election Empties Divine Election of Meaning and Makes Human Choice Decisive, by pointing out that God decides to have a people and God saves that people. This objection simply faults corporate election for not being unconditional individual election.

Finally, Brian clears up the misconception that Election Unto Spiritual Salvation in the Old Testament Was Individualistic. Brian points out even most Calvinist scholars view election in the OT as corporate and they in turn face an unnatural shift from corporate to individual election from the OT to the New, particularly in light of the fact that Christ is the head of the seed of Abraham.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Isaiah 5:4 and Sufficient Grace

I was recently asked to comment on Isaiah 5:4 and how I thought it supported resistible grace. (link) Here's the passage in context:

1 Now let me sing to my Well-beloved A song of my Beloved regarding His vineyard:

My Well-beloved has a vineyard On a very fruitful hill. 2 He dug it up and cleared out its stones, And planted it with the choicest vine. He built a tower in its midst, And also made a winepress in it; So He expected it to bring forth good grapes, But it brought forth wild grapes. 3 “ And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem and men of Judah, Judge, please, between Me and My vineyard. 4 What more could have been done to My vineyard That I have not done in it? Why then, when I expected it to bring forth good grapes, Did it bring forth wild grapes? 5 And now, please let Me tell you what I will do to My vineyard: I will take away its hedge, and it shall be burned; And break down its wall, and it shall be trampled down. 6 I will lay it waste; It shall not be pruned or dug, But there shall come up briers and thorns. I will also command the clouds That they rain no rain on it.”

7 For the vineyard of the LORD of hosts is the house of Israel, And the men of Judah are His pleasant plant. He looked for justice, but behold, oppression; For righteousness, but behold, a cry for help.

Isaiah reprimands Israel for rebellion and foretells their resulting captivity by the parable of a vineyard. The style mixes flowing wisdom literature and a harsh prophetic judgement. Per verse 7, God owns the vineyard, which is Israel. Justice and righteousness are good grapes while oppression and a cry for help are wild grapes (or thorns). The chapter opens with a song about a beloved and His vineyard. (verse 1) God had provided for Israel (dug it up, cleared out stones, planted it with the choicest vine, built a tower in its midst, and made a winepress) with the expectation that it would bring forth good grapes, but it didn't (verse 2). In verse 3 the speaker shifts from someone singing about the beloved and his vineyard to God addressing the vineyard. God calls the Israelites to judge themselves (verse 3). God presents His evidence against Israel by asking what more He could have done and says He looked for good grapes but got bad ones. (verse 4). So God is going to remove His protection and blessings from Israel, leading to captivity and judgement (verse 5-6).

God works on the soil (dug it up and removed stones) and the vine itself (planted it with the choicest vine) and dealt with external threats (the tower). It is difficult to identify the specific blessings in verse 2 which God removes in verses 5-6. Clearly they include physical protection from invading nations, but they must also include means sufficient to produce good grapes (righteousness and justice). The reasons are:

1) Good grapes are more than National existence and prosperity
2) God calls the Israelites to condemn themselves for not producing good grapes, but if whatever God provided was insufficient to enable the production of good grapes, they would not be in a positions to condemn themselves. They simply say, I had to produce thorns, you didn't deal with me in a way in which I could have produced good grapes.
3) God's expectation was that they should produce good grapes, which does not makes sense if the means were insufficient for the production of good grapes. Not that He did not foreknow the result but that His foreknowledge of the result was in some sense dependent on the result.
4) the parable as a whole, especially the expectation, indicates that it was God's desire that they produce good grapes
5) God asks what more He could have done - which would not make sense if He didn't provide sufficient grace for the production of good grapes.

Christ refers to verse 2 in Matthew 21:33-43 perhaps even combining it with Isaiah 3:14. While Christ's point is different than Isaiah's, the overall idea of Israel being inexcusable in light of God's previous gifts  carries over.