Saturday, December 22, 2012

Acts 4:28 - Mental Resolution or Causal Predetermination

The Scholastics used to ask “does predestination place anything in the predestined?” A relevant question indeed concerning Acts 4:28. Consider the translation change from the 1984 NIV to the 2012 ISV:

“They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen.” 1984 New International Version

“to carry out everything that your hand and will had predetermined to take place” 2012 International Standard Version

The NIV speaks of God’s choice – a mental resolution on His part – the ISV speaks of God’s actions impacting and determining the events. In the NIV, God’s mind is set; in the ISV the events are set. The Greek term proorizo is flexible in either direction – both translations are permissible. Yet the ISV clarifies the ambiguous term in favor of Calvinism.

The argument for determinism based on the ISV is simple – God predetermined sinful actions for which man is morally responsible, therefore compatible determinism is true. But this argument is not quite so straight forward based on the NIV. Yes God decided it would happen, but the passage is silent on why God so decided and more importantly how the events would come about. Given God knew the sinful desires and intentions of the Jews, God need only hand Christ over – give them the opening to do what they wanted. Determinism does not flow from the NIV the way it does from the ISV.

I understand the passage in the NIV sense, God’s choice or plan. I take this view because it’s grammatically and contextually likely and because it reconciles with my understanding of the balance of scripture. But as far as translations go, if the Greek is ambiguous, the English should be as well. So I like the ASV “to do whatsoever thy hand and thy council foreordained to come to pass.”

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Not the American Way

In Unam Sanctum, the Pope declared himself to be over the secular government and history is replete with examples of Pope’s trying to control governments.1 By contrast, the Baptist Faith and Message sates: “Church and state should be separate. The state owes to every church protection and full freedom in the pursuit of its spiritual ends. In providing for such freedom no ecclesiastical group or denomination should be favored by the state more than others. Civil government being ordained of God, it is the duty of Christians to render loyal obedience thereto in all things not contrary to the revealed will of God. The church should not resort to the civil power to carry on its work.”

Which is more in line with the American Way  and the 1st Amendment which states “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”?


1We are informed by the texts of the gospels that in this Church and in its power are two swords; namely, the spiritual and the temporal. For when the Apostles say: 'Behold, here are two swords' [Lk 22:38] that is to say, in the Church, since the Apostles were speaking, the Lord did not reply that there were too many, but sufficient. Certainly the one who denies that the temporal sword is in the power of Peter has not listened well to the word of the Lord commanding: 'Put up thy sword into thy scabbard' [Mt 26:52]. Both, therefore, are in the power of the Church, that is to say, the spiritual and the material sword, but the former is to be administered for the Church but the latter by the Church; the former in the hands of the priest; the latter by the hands of kings and soldiers, but at the will and sufferance of the priest.

However, one sword ought to be subordinated to the other and temporal authority, subjected to spiritual power. For since the Apostle said: 'There is no power except from God and the things that are, are ordained of God' [Rom 13:1-2], but they would not be ordained if one sword were not subordinated to the other and if the inferior one, as it were, were not led upwards by the other.

For, according to the Blessed Dionysius, it is a law of the divinity that the lowest things reach the highest place by intermediaries. Then, according to the order of the universe, all things are not led back to order equally and immediately, but the lowest by the intermediary, and the inferior by the superior. Hence we must recognize the more clearly that spiritual power surpasses in dignity and in nobility any temporal power whatever, as spiritual things surpass the temporal. This we see very clearly also by the payment, benediction, and consecration of the tithes, but the acceptance of power itself and by the government even of things. For with truth as our witness, it belongs to spiritual power to establish the terrestrial power and to pass judgement if it has not been good. Thus is accomplished the prophecy of Jeremias concerning the Church and the ecclesiastical power: 'Behold to-day I have placed you over nations, and over kingdoms' and the rest. Therefore, if the terrestrial power err, it will be judged by the spiritual power; but if a minor spiritual power err, it will be judged by a superior spiritual power; but if the highest power of all err, it can be judged only by God, and not by man, according to the testimony of the Apostle: 'The spiritual man judgeth of all things and he himself is judged by no man' [1 Cor 2:15]. This authority, however, (though it has been given to man and is exercised by man), is not human but rather divine, granted to Peter by a divine word and reaffirmed to him (Peter) and his successors by the One Whom Peter confessed, the Lord saying to Peter himself, 'Whatsoever you shall bind on earth, shall be bound also in Heaven' etc., [Mt 16:19]. Therefore whoever resists this power thus ordained by God, resists the ordinance of God [Rom 13:2], unless he invent like Manicheus two beginnings, which is false and judged by us heretical, since according to the testimony of Moses, it is not in the beginnings but in the beginning that God created heaven and earth [Gen 1:1]. Furthermore, we declare, we proclaim, we define that it is absolutely necessary for salvation that every human creature be subject to the Roman Pontiff. (link)

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Nicea - Universal Bishop or Bishop of the Burbs

Some Roman Catholics argue that the first council of Nicea proves the Bishop of Rome was a universal bishop over all regions.

The ancient customs of Egypt, Libya and Pentapolis shall be maintained, according to which the bishop of Alexandria has authority over all these places since a similar custom exists with reference to the bishop of Rome. Similarly in Antioch and the other provinces the prerogatives of the churches are to be preserved. In general the following principle is evident: if anyone is made bishop without the consent of the metropolitan, this great synod determines that such a one shall not be a bishop. If however two or three by reason of personal rivalry dissent from the common vote of all, provided it is reasonable and in accordance with the church's canon, the vote of the majority shall prevail. (link)

The statement is ambiguous if the bishop of Rome is over the surrounding provence of Rome or over everything.  However, it's important to note that Rufinus understood and translated the council as saying the bishop of Rome was over the Roman suburbs.

VI. The ancient custom in Alexandria and the city of Rome is to be maintained whereby [the bishop of the former] has charge of Egypt, while [the bishop of the latter] has charge of the suburbicarian churches. Rufinus (c340 to 410)

Monday, December 10, 2012

"Pope" Gregory Denies the Title "Universal Pope" or "Universal Bishop"

Your Blessedness has also been careful to declare that you do not now make use of proud titles, which have sprung from a root of vanity, in writing to certain persons, and you address me saying, As you have commanded. This word, command, I beg you to remove from my hearing, since I know who I am, and who you are. For in position you are my brethren, in character my fathers. I did not, then, command, but was desirous of indicating what seemed to be profitable. Yet I do not find that your Blessedness has been willing to remember perfectly this very thing that I brought to your recollection. For I said that neither to me nor to any one else ought you to write anything of the kind; and lo, in the preface of the epistle which you have addressed to myself who forbade it, you have thought fit to make use of a proud appellation, calling me Universal Pope. But I beg your most sweet Holiness to do this no more, since what is given to another beyond what reason demands is subtracted from yourself. For as for me, I do not seek to be prospered by words but by my conduct. Nor do I regard that as an honour whereby I know that my brethren lose their honour. For my honour is the honour of the universal Church: my honour is the solid vigour of my brethren. Then am I truly honoured when the honour due to all and each is not denied them. For if your Holiness calls me Universal Pope, you deny that you are yourself what you call me universally. But far be this from us. Away with words that inflate vanity and wound charity.  (link)

Friday, December 7, 2012

Hebrews 10:14 - "He has Perfected Forever"

Calvinist often site Hebrews 10:14 as teaching limited/definitive atonement. Specifically, the perfect tense of “has perfected” indicates our perfecting took place in the past – it’s settled and done with, though it has lasting results into the future. Of course, this leads to questions like are we born justified, and also, if we are already perfect, why are we being sanctified? But rather than critiquing the Calvinist view, I would like to focus on alternative explanations.

For years, I held this passage references three time frames: three events. Here’s what it looks like as a timeline:

First is the cross, which is the offering whereby Christ supplied the provision – the only basis for salvation. This is the “by one offering”. The third event is happening while the book of Hebrews is written; the sanctification of the believers. This is referenced by “are being sanctified”. In between is a second, implicit event; the conversion of the people spoken of in Hebrews; the moment when they first came to faith. This is when Christ “perfected forever” those believers. So the perfecting is in the past, relative to the writing of the book of Hebrews and is based on the cross.

Lately, I have been thinking about another explanation. Perhaps the passage references two events: the cross and those being sanctified at the time of the writing of Hebrews. Literally, the passage is saying we were perfected forever at the cross. However, the statement is a synecdoche, a part referenced as a whole. Christ is so certain that what He has done will perfect forever the people spoken of in Hebrews, that He can say, “I perfected them”. However, He must still intercede for them, He must still justify them; He must still sanctify them – and this He does only while they believe. And this certainty is primarily in knowing He has already done the hard part; He died for them. Secondary, this certainty based in His knowing the efficacy of His blood; whoever He applies it to will be cleansed.

There’s a great scene in Hunt for Red October involving two subs play chicken where one sub ends up torpedoing itself. When an officer on that sub learns his own torpedo is heading straight for him, he says to his commander “You’ve killed us.” Maybe in a similar sense, Christ has perfected whoever will believe.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Christ Redeemed Faith

The Canons of Dort say Christ acquired faith for us by His death (Point 2, article 8).1  The significance of this seemly minor point is that Christ buying the condition of the covenant effectively changes the covenant from conditional to unconditional. Christ buying faith links the provision and application of Christ’s blood – ensuring the provision and application are co-extensive.

When the bible says Christ bought us or redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us, it’s talking about penal substitution. God’s law and justice demand the punishment of sinners, so we were lawbreakers and under a sentence of death. Christ redeems us by penal substitution – He satisfies justice by His death.

The same cannot be said for faith. The bible never says Christ bought or redeemed faith. Does faith need to be rescued? Is faith a lawbreaker and under a sentence of death? It’s not like the bible speaks of Christ’s death overcoming some obstacle to God’s giving us faith. Rather, scriptures speak of God redeeming us from sin’s penalty.


1  For a more recent example, see Schrock’s chapter 4 in Whomever He Wills, page 103. 

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

I Told You So Molinism

Deuteronomy 7:3-4 Do not intermarry with them. Do not give your daughters to their sons or take their daughters for your sons, for they will turn your sons away from following me to serve other gods, and the LORD's anger will burn against you and will quickly destroy you.

1 Kings 11:2, 9
They were from nations about which the LORD had told the Israelites, "You must not intermarry with them, because they will surely turn your hearts after their gods." Nevertheless, Solomon held fast to them in love.... verse 9  The LORD became angry with Solomon because his heart had turned away from the LORD, the God of Israel, who had appeared to him twice.

God uses His middle knowledge to warn people. If you put yourself into a given circumstance, you will do this.  God knew what would happen if the Israelites intermarried.  He knew what the foreign wives would do and how the Israelites would respond.  Sadly, Solomon didn't listen.

On divine determinism, God's foreknowledge is logically "too late" to serve as a warning.  All  (even the hypothetical - if you intermarry, you will fall away) is determined by God.  So 1 Kings 11 turns into "I told you I determined you would fall" as opposed to "I told you you would fall".    

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

What Counts as an Interpretation?

Interpretation brings out the meaning of something. There has to be some original being interpreted and some level of faithfulness to represent that original. When interpreting the bible, you have to know what the bible says and try to represent what it says. Now bad interpretations are still interpretations. Much leeway can be given for those who are not experienced in the word of truth (Hebrews 5:14). A child might interpret scripture badly, but they are still interpreting scripture, so long as they are trying to represent what they read. But if someone simply disagrees with scripture, they are not interpreting scripture. For example, if someone “rationalizes” a biblical account of a miracle, they are not interpreting scripture.

Because intent is involved, sometimes it’s hard to say if someone is interpreting the bible or not. For example, I recently read a homosexual argue Paul, in Romans 1:26-27, does not condemn all homosexual activity. When someone challenged this, the person didn’t defend their previous comments, but rather said “why do you believe what shepherds thought 2,000 years ago, you say the bible is inspired, but I believe in the inspired words of Satan”. OK, it’s clear that person isn’t interpreting the bible – they are not interested in what the bible means. But if they spoken out against the bible, it would have been harder to tell the difference between a bad interpretation and statements that don’t even qualify as interpretation.

Perhaps this person was simply rehashing someone else’s comments on Romans 1:26-27. In that case, while it’s clear they are not interpreting scripture, perhaps someone else did. And that may be true, but someone else’s interpretation doesn't become your own, unless you follow their logic and agree with their conclusions. And so while a large group holds to a certain interpretation of a passage, it may be that a great number within the group are not interpreting that passage at all.  So sometime a really bad interpretation gains credibility because of the number of supporters – but that’s not necessarily an argument in favor of the reasonableness of the interpretation.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Eternally Frustrated God

Some Calvinists say God desires for us not to sin, even though He determines us to sin. This divine desire is  like Paul’s unfulfilled desire not to sin (Romans 7:15) or my desire to eat cake when I am on a diet. If all things were equal, I would act on my desire, but all things are not equal.

At the same time they accuse Traditional Baptists and Arminians of holding to an idea of an eternally frustrated God. God pines away throughout all eternity as He watches those He loves suffer. Some even go as far as to call God (on Traditional Baptist views) a looser. But how does their view avoid this charge?

Here’s Bruce Ware’s example explaining the “two wills” of God.

Second, I do think we can understand something of how God can genuinely desire the salvation of all yet ordain and determine the salvation of only some.43 We can understand something of this because we experience much the same reality at times in our human experience. I recall watching a PBS special many years ago that told the story of an agonizing decision Winston Churchill had to make during WW II. Hitler’s messages to his frontline troops and U-boats were sent to them encoded, and the German units possessed decoding machines (called “enigmas”) to read and know what he was instructing them. Allied scientists developed their own version of such a decoding machine, and they would intercept Hitler’s messages, decode them, and call Churchill, telling him what Hitler had instructed. On one occasion Churchill learned through his scientists’ hard decoding work that Hitler had planned, in three days, to send a squadron of bombers over the English channel to bomb the small city of Coventry (a munitions factory lay just outside of the city). Obviously, Churchill wanted to call the mayor of Coventry, have the city evacuated, and save his people. But as recounted in this PBS special, Churchill never made this call. Instead, just as he had been told, German bombers flew over Coventry and bombed it mercilessly, unanticipated by all in the city, resulting in many English lives lost and much property destroyed.

Why didn’t Churchill warn the city? The answer is this: if he had called the mayor of Coventry and had the city evacuated, the Germans would have known that Churchill had been able to decode Hitler’s instructions. But then this intelligence-gathering advantage would be lost. Churchill believed that the entire war effort was at stake here, that is, that he could save Coventry, but he could nto save these people and also win the war. He chose, then, not to save those whom he could have saved–those whom, in one sense, he willed very much to save–because he valued even more highly the fulfillment of the mission that the allied forces win the war.

Clearly all illustrations break down at some point, but where this one helps especially is here: One can possess both the will and the ability to save certain people, and this will can be genuine and the ability real. Yet one can also possess, at the same time, a will not to save those same persons whom one could have saved. Why would one not save those whom one both could and wants to save? Answer: One would will not to save only if there are greater values and higher purposes that could only be accomplished in choosing not to save those whom one could save, those whom one would otherwise want to save. Scripture does give us some indication that this is the case with God.
” (link)

Ware invokes a “greater good” defense. Yes, God loves the non-elect, but there’s something He loves more. But this is every bit as susceptible to the eternally frustrated God argument above.

A Calvinist could deny the “two wills of God” or limit the second will to only God’s commands and desire for us to be responsible. But this goes against passages saying God hates sin and He takes pleasure in us repenting and living rather than dying. (Psalm 45:7, Ezekiel 18:23).

Friday, November 30, 2012

Don't forget John 3:17

John 3:16 is one of the most well known and loved passages in the bible - because it summarize the Gospel so nicely. Some Calvinists limit "world" from meaning everyone, but many Calvinists do see that John 3:16 is about everyone.1  That is to say, they agree that God has a general love for all mankind that moved Him to send His Son.  But they stop there, just short of saying God intends to apply the work of His Son to each and every person to save all.  But don't forget verse 17:

16 For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. 17 For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.

God's purpose in sending His Son was so that the world [each and every individual], through Christ Jesus, might be saved.  Contra Dort's claim that: "it was God’s will that Christ through the blood of the cross (by which he confirmed the new covenant) should effectively redeem from every people, tribe, nation, and language all those and only those who were chosen from eternity to salvation and given to him by the Father" (Dort 2.8), God's intent was for His Son to save the world.  


1 For detailed arguments on why world means everyone in this context, I recommend David Allen's chapter "The Atonement: Limited or Universal?" in A Biblical-Theological Critique of Five-Point Calvinism.  B&H Publishing. 2010.  He is also quoted on John 3:16 in chapter 1.  I also recommend John Goodwin's treatment of John 3:16 starting on page 132 of Redemption Redeemed (link).   The basic arguments are that you wouldn't need whosoever (pas) if the "sense was God so loved the world that He gave His only Son that believers should not perish".  The point of the pas is to distribute the promise.  Also, the reading of God so loved believers that He gave His Son that whoever believes should not perish makes no sense.  Whoever believes has to be a subset of the world - the world being divided between believers and unbelievers.  Goodwin also makes a effective argument from NT usage of the word world or kasmos.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Working out Forgiveness

James White and Turretinfan are doing a good job responding to Jason Stellman’s interview about converting to Roman Catholicism (Response 1, Response 2), but I wanted to add my two cents on a few things. About 30 minutes in, Stellman argues if you really understand sanctification you don’t need imputation.  If the Holy Spirit makes us fulfill the law, why do you need the imputation of Christ’s righteousness?  But Stellman’s argument works equally well (or poorly) against forgiveness.  If you really understand sanctification you don’t need imputation forgiveness. If the Holy Spirit makes us fulfill the law, why do you need the imputation of Christ’s righteousness forgiveness?1  If Stellman truly understood forgiveness, he would have no need for penance, purgatory or the Roman Catholic doctrine of suffering, which confuses suffering for sin with suffering for Christ.

Likewise, when Stellman argues that God does not require perfection, so we don’t need the imputation of Christ’s righteousness, this argument applies equally to forgiveness. If God doesn't require perfection, then we don’t need forgiveness.

James White and Turretinfan note Stellman’s disagreement with his own church that God requires perfection.  But Stellman’s argument falls apart upon attempted repair.  Let’s take Stellman’s scriptural example,

Luke 1:6 Both of them [Zachariah and Elizabeth] were righteous in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commands and decrees blamelessly

Stellman agrees with White and TFan; this righteousness isn’t perfection, it’s just being better than our neighbors.2  Now instead of saying God lets Zachariah and Elizabeth’s into heaven because their good deeds outweigh their bad ones, let’s modify Stellman’s view towards the standard Roman Catholic view and say that their good deeds are involved in God’s forgiving their sins.  So we have works involved in justification without losing forgiveness.  Job done.

But is the text about double righteousness?  Because Zachariah and Elizabeth were fairly righteous and blameless, God forgives them, making them fully righteous and blameless. Certainly not - that goes against Stellman's own observation that the text is only talking about Zachariah and Elizabeth's obedience.  So this passage can only be used to argue there’s no such thing as forgiveness. 

 1 Roman Catholic’s often target the imputation of Christ’s righteousness when addressing justification.  It’s the aspect of justification that’s probably least clear in scripture.  It is in scripture, but I think you probably need to first understand that justification is a legal “not guilty” verdict to see it.  But for the sake of argument, let’s strip out the imputation of Christ’s righteousness and even a not guilty verdict from justification.  Let’s consider justification just forgiveness of sins – as Romans 4:7 says of justification: “blessed is the man who’s transgressions are forgiven”.

2 As an aside, I agree with Stellman that this passage should lead us to think Zachariah and Elizabeth were saved.  But this is because we know them by their fruits.  Justification leads to good works - it doesn't pay to get that one backwards.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Were the Pharisees Molinists?

Being associated with the Pharisees is normally unflattering.  But considering Paul was originally a Pharisee, it's important to understand what they believed.  And they maintained God's providential control and man's freedom in a way only Molinists today can.  Here's how Josephus described the Pharisees view:

3. Now, for the Pharisees, ... when they determine that all things are done by fate, they do not take away the freedom from men of acting as they think fit; since their notion is, that it hath pleased God to make a temperament, whereby what he wills is done, but so that the will of man can act virtuously or viciously.

the Pharisees are those who are esteemed most skillful in the exact explication of their laws, and introduce the first sect. These ascribe all to fate [or providence], and to God, and yet allow, that to act what is right, or the contrary, is principally in the power of men, although fate does co-operate in every action.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Purgatory on Earth

According to Roman Catholic theology, both penance and purgatory make reparations to God’s justice by satisfying the temporal punishments for sins that have already been forgiven.  Given this line of thinking, why not go for the more brutal forms of penance?  (link)


Romans 8:1 Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus

Monday, November 26, 2012

Pre-Molinia Molinism

Luis De Molina is often called the inventor of the idea that God knows what we would choose in any setting.  But Molina’s role is really more of a systematizer and defender of this idea, rather than inventor.  Of course, the idea is in the bible itself (link), but it’s also in some of the Church Fathers.  For example, Gregory of Nyssa uses this idea to theorize why God allows infants to die.  Now Gregory’s use is somewhat speculative and may not be all that helpful to grieving parents (“Oh great, not only is my kid dead, but he would have grown up to be a Hitler…”).  So I don’t bring this up to sign off on Gregory’s theory, but rather mealy to note the use of the idea in the Fathers, well prior to Molina’s time.  Here’s Gregory of Nyssa’s comment:

"It is a sign of the perfection of God's providence, that He not only heals maladies that have come into existence, but also provides that some should be never mixed up at all in the things which He has forbidden; it is reasonable, that is, to expect that He Who knows the future equally with the past should check the advance of an infant to complete maturity, in order that the evil may not be developed which His foreknowledge has detected in his future life, and in order that a lifetime granted to one whose evil dispositions will be lifelong may not become the actual material for his vice. We shall better explain what we are thinking of by an illustration.

Suppose a banquet of very varied abundance, prepared for a certain number of guests, and let the chair be taken by one of their number who is gifted to know accurately the peculiarities of constitution in each of them, and what food is best adapted to each temperament, what is harmful and unsuitable; in addition to this let him be entrusted with a sort of absolute authority over them, whether to allow as he pleases so and so to remain at the board or to expel so and so, and to take every precaution that each should address himself to the viands most suited to his constitution, so that the invalid should not kill himself by adding the fuel of what he was eating to his ailment, while the guest in robuster health should not make himself ill with things not good for him and fall into discomfort from over-feeding. Suppose, among these, one of those inclined to drink is conducted out in the middle of the banquet or even at the very beginning of it; or let him remain to the very end, it all depending on the way that the president can secure that perfect order shall prevail, if possible, at the board throughout, and that the evil sights of surfeiting, tippling, and tipsiness shall be absent. It is just so, then, as when that individual is not very pleased at being torn away from all the savoury dainties and deprived of his favourite liquors, but is inclined to charge the president with want of justice and judgment, as having turned him away from the feast for envy, and not for any forethought for him; but if he were to catch a sight of those who were already beginning to misbehave themselves, from the long continuance of their drinking, in the way of vomitings and putting their heads on the table and unseemly talk, he would perhaps feel grateful to him for having removed him, before he got into such a condition, from a deep debauch. If our illustration is understood, we can easily apply the rule which it contains to the question before us. What, then, was that question? Why does God, when fathers endeavour their utmost to preserve a successor to their line, often let the son and heir be snatched away in earliest infancy ? To those who ask this, we shall reply with the illustration of the banquet; namely, that Life's board is as it were crowded with a vast abundance and variety of dainties; and it must, please, be noticed that, true to the practice of gastronomy, all its dishes are not sweetened with the honey of enjoyment, but in some cases an existence has a taste of some especially harsh mischances given to it: just as experts in the arts of catering desire how they may excite the appetites of the guests with sharp, or briny, or astringent dishes. Life, I say, is not in all its circumstances as sweet as honey; there are circumstances in it in which mere brine is the only relish, or into which an astringent, or vinegary, or sharp pungent flavour has so insinuated itself, that the rich sauce becomes very difficult to taste: the cups of Temptation, too, are filled with all sorts of beverages; some by the error of pride produce the vice of inflated vanity; others lure on those who drain them to some deed of rashness; while in other cases they excite a vomiting in which all the ill-gotten acquisitions of years are with shame surrendered. Therefore, to prevent one who has indulged in the carousals to an improper extent from lingering over so profusely furnished a table, he is early taken from the number of the banqueters, and thereby secures an escape out of those evils which unmeasured indulgence procures for gluttons. This is that achievement of a perfect Providence which I spoke of; namely, not only to heal evils that have been committed, but also to forestall them before they have been committed; and this, we suspect, is the cause of the deaths of new-born infants. He Who does all things upon a Plan withdraws the materials for evil in His love to the individual, and, to a character whose marks His Foreknowledge has read, grants no time to display by a pre-eminence in actual vice what it is when its propensity to evil gets free play." (Gregory of Nyssa.  On the Untimely Death of Infants.  In Migne PG 46)

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Dekker on Middle Knowledge in Arminius’ Theology

All quotes from Eef Dekker’s Was Arminius a Molinist? The Sixteenth Century Journal, Vol. 27, No. 2 (Summer, 1996), pp. 337-352. 

Arminius: The knowledge of God is a faculty of his life, which is the first in nature and order, by which he distinctly understands each and every thing, whatever entity they have, will have, have had, can have, or might hypothetically have, and of each and every thing their order, connection, and various aspects that they have or can have; not even excluded that entity which belongs to reason, and which only in the mind, imagination or enunciation exists or can exist. (Public Disputation IV.30)

Dekker: … "Hypothetical entity" may sound just the same as "possible entity." There is, however, a weighty reason not to regard it as such. It is one of the characteristic features of Molinism to distinguish that which is possible from that which can hypothetically exist. In the first case it is about things that can exist, in the second it is about things that would exist, certain circumstances presupposed, as an effect of creaturely free will. In other words, the separation of categories (2) and (3) can be taken to be a first sign of Molinism.

Arminius: 2. [He knows] all possibilia, which may refer as it were to three genera: [a]The first is [knowledge of those things, to which the power of God may immediately extend itself, or which may exist by an act performed by him alone. [b]The second is [knowledge] of those things which, by God's conservation, motion, aid, concursuso, permission, can exist [as performed] by the creatures, whether these creatures will themselves exist or not, and whether they be placed in this or in that, or in infinitely many orders of things, [he knows] even those things which would exist by creatures, if this or that hypothesis were made. [c]The third is [knowledge] of those things which concerning the acts of creatures God can do-convenient for himself or for those acts. (Public Disputation IV.34)

Dekker:  In category 2[b] formulations are used which bear close resemblance to those which Molina used in his Concordia The first formulation is "whether they be placed in this or in that, or in infinitely many orders of things." Molina formulates in his definition of scientia media: "were it [free choice] to be placed in this or in that or, indeed, in infinitely many orders of things.", The resemblance is striking, and I suggest that Arminius borrowed it from Molina. Still, it does not follow that Arminius has middle knowledge in mind. In fact, what Arminius says by the mouth of Molina has no connection with scientia media. Rather, it is about what creatures can do in specific situations, and not about the relation between a certain possible situation and human choice in such a situation. However, we actually do find middle knowledge in what follows on our quotation (2[b] at the end):"[He knows] even those things which would exist by creatures, if this or that hypothesis were made." Here again we have middle knowledge formulated.

Dekker:  Middle knowledge, we now see, is right at the heart of Arminius' doctrine of divine knowledge.  This conclusion is still reinforced by the fact that the traditional "middle knowledge" quotations from scripture, 1 Sam. 23:11-12 and Matt. 11:21, are not in the margin of thesis 43 (Public Disputation IV.43), but precisely next to our text: in the margin of category 2[b] of thesis 34 (Public Disputation IV.34).

Arminius: God's knowledge which ... is called "of simple intelligence" and natural or necessary is the cause of all things, by way of prescription and direction, to which is added the action of will and power, although it is necessary that middle knowledge intervenes in things which depend on freedom of created choice.(Public Disputation IV.45)

Dekker:  …Natural knowledge apparently cannot prescribe to the divine will how to proceed in case of human free will. The divine will needs middle knowledge in order to know which free human act can be realized, given certain circumstances. It needs no further comment when I say that this rationale was precisely that which Molina had in mind when he "invented" middle knowledge.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Muller on Middle Knowledge in Arminius’ Theology

All quotes from Richard Muller’s God, Creation, and Providence in the Thought of Jacob Arminius: Sources and Directions of Scholastic Protestantism in the Era of Early Orthodoxy. Baker Book House, 1991.

By way of repudiating the Reformed view, Arminius would not only adopt a concept of scientia media, he would also argue an alternative view of concurrence…. Walaeus notes, however, that this hypothetical knowing is not necessarily to be understood as a third kind of knowledge separate from the scientia simplicis intelligentiae.  Arminius argues precisely the point that the definitions offered by his Reformed contemporaries have purposely excluded.  After his basic set of definitions, Arminius presents the thesis that:

The Scholastics say besides, that one kind of God’s knowledge is natural and necessary, another free, and a third intermediate (mediam).  (1) Natural or necessary knowledge is that by which God understands himself and all possibilities; (2) free knowledge is that by which he knows all other beings; (3) middle knowledge is that by which he knows that “if this occurs, that will happen.”  The first precedes every free act of the divine will.  The second follows the free act of the divine will.  This latter act indeed is preceded by the free will, but sees any future thing as a consequence of it… middle [knowledge] must intervene in things that depend on the freedom of creaturely choice.   (Disp. Pub. Iv.xliii) (in Muller p.155-156)

Molina refers specifically to the statement of Origen that “a thing will happen not because God knows it as future; but because it is future, it is on that account known by God before it exists,” as cited by Aquinas, and specifically disagrees with Aquinas’ interpretation.  Aquinas has categorically refused to view the future event as the cause of something in God or as standing outside of the divine causality… Arminius nowhere cites Dreiedo, Molina, Suarez, or Origen and nowhere notes the contemporary Roman Catholic debate over middle knowledge.  His only citation of Aquinas stands in no direct relation to the question of scientia media, but it is hard to rule out the influence of Molina and Suarez on his doctrine.  There is even a hint of the famous Thomistic citation of Origen and its Molinst interpretation  in Arminius’ remark that “a thing does not come to pass (non sit) because it is foreknown or foretold; but it is foreknown or foretold because it is yet to be (future est).” (private disputation XXVIII.xiv) It is also the case that Arminius’ motivation in arguing the scientia media is identical with Molina’s: “the middle knowledge,” argues Arminius, “ought to intervene [i.e., between natural and free knowledge] in things which depend on the freedom of creaturely choice.”   (private disputation XVII.xii) Thus the scientia media must precede the act of will that grounds the scientia libera or scientia visionis, and must know future events, not because they have been willed but on the hypothesis of their future occurrence.  God will, therefore, be able to ordain the means of salvation on the basis of a hypothetical or consequent knowledge of the creature’s fee choice in a context of grace.  (p. 160-161)

In its detail, Arminius’ language of the divine decrees veers away from the Suarezian view of predestination ante preavisa merita and evidences some affinity for both the teachings of Driedro and Molina and the formulation of Aquavia… Not only, moreover, can we assume that Arminius was aware of the general outlines of the Roman Catholic debate over grace, free will, and predestination, we can also infer from the catalogue of his library that he had a detailed, first-hand knowledge of the positions of Driedo and Molina and, probably of Suarez: he owned copies of Dreido’s De concorida liberi arbitrii et praedstinatioinis divinae (Louvain, 1537), Molina’s Concorida liberi arbitrii cum gratiae donis (Antwerp, 1595) and Suarez Opuscula theological. (Auction Catalogue)  (p. 163)

Thus, the divine will to save particular persons rests on the divine knowledge of future contingent acts – scientia media.  Indeed, it is only by the device of scientia meida that Arminius can argue a genuinely universal will to save, resting on a knowledge of possibility and also argue, subsequently, a genuinely specific will to save believers only.  (p. 164)

Whereas the Reformed insisted upon the almost paradoxical point that an eternal and all-powerful God can in fact predetermine that some events will occur as a result of contingent or free acts of creatures and can therefore know such events according to his scientia libera seu visionis, Amrinius follows Suarez in placing the divine foreknowledge or scientia meida prior to the divine intervention, with the result that God can and does offer inducements to his creatures on the basis of his knowledge of their disposition towards or against certain acts.  (p. 260-261)

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Why Episcopius held to Middle Knowledge

Simon Episcopius led the Remonstants at Dort, after Arminius’ death. (link for background on Episcopius) Like Arminius, he held to middle knowledge. (link) Here’s what he had to say about middle knowledge:

This order to be rightly understood, has come to be observed, by usually attributing to God threefold knowledge. One which is necessary and practical and is called simple intelligence, which by its nature is prior to all free acts of [the divine] will, which God has of himself and knows all possibilities. The other free, which is called vision, and is after the free act of the [divine] will, by which God has decreed to do or permit all things, knows the same order, when it decided to make or permit to be done. Third,

Middle, by which God knows what men or angels would do by their own freedom, under conditions, if with these or those circumstances, in this or that state, or established order. Whether this distinction is rightly said of the divine knowledge, we do not consider. But that it is convenient and that the doctrine of grace becomes possible, no one doubts. And this is why we set the second distinction, in the order of the objects of divine knowledge.

Ordo hic ut recte intelligatur, observandum venit, triplicem Deo scientiam tribui solere. Vnam, quae necessaria est, and practica atque simplicas intelligentia dicitur, quae ex natura sua omni voluntatis liberae actu prior est, qua Deus se ipsum & alia omnia possibilia intelligit. Alteram liberam, quae visionie dicitur, & actu voluntatis liberae posterior est, qua Deus omnia, quae facere aut permittere decrevit, eodem ordine novit, quo ea decrevit facere aut permittere ut fiant. Tertiam,

Mediam, qua Deus novit quid homines aut Angeli pro sua libertate facturi essent, sub conditione, si cum his aut illis circumstantiis, in hoc vel in illo statu aut ordine constituerentur. An haec divinae scientiae distinctio recte fait, nos non expendimus. Quin ea commode & doctrinae gratia fieri poffit, neutiquam dubitamus. Quare secundum hane distinctionem, hunc in objectis divinae scientiae ordinem constituimus. (Works of Simon Episcopius. Page 303)

I like his practical approach. He doesn't try to crawl behind middle knowledge to discover it’s source. Rather, he accepts middle knowledge because of its benefits.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Prescience Prophecy Problem

Genesis 15:5-6: He took him outside and said, “Look up at the sky and count the stars—if indeed you can count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be. Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.

What a monumental event. Did God foreknow Abram’s belief? Most Christians say yes. The question I would like to ask is, is such a belief consistent with simple foreknowledge?

Simple foreknowledge is the view that God simply knows the future. Those who hold to simple foreknowledge are not divine determinists; they hold to libertarian freedom. Likewise they are not Molinists, God does not have middle knowledge (the idea that God knows what people would choose in various settings). Also they are not open theists, they believe God has exhaustive foreknowledge. They say God simply knows the future. 

But simple foreknowledge is providentially useless. Consider the grandfather paradox (i.e. you go back in time an kill your own grandfather). Similarly, on simple foreknowledge, God cannot change the future He foreknows. It’s logically “too late” to do anything about it. This is because on simple foreknowledge, God foreknows the future because it is future.

I argue that by extension, on simple foreknowledge, God cannot foreknow the results of what will happen based on a prophecy. Imagine, on hearing he will become a great nation, Abram says, “this ain’t for me” and does not do the things needed to become the father of a great nation. God’s statement about the future would turn out to be wrong. Simple foreknowledge cannot account for this prophecy because the prophecy shapes the past of the foreknown event.

God’s telling Abram he will be the father of a great nation motivated Abram to believe and to try to become one. Abram’s actions result from and are logically dependent on God’s telling him the future. So the prophecy logically precedes and helps explain the foretold events. But on simple foreknowledge, God knows the future because it is future. Foreknown events logically precede and help explain God’s foreknowledge. The simple foreknowledge view is in trouble - God’s foreknowledge of Abram’s actions is logically before and after Abram’s actions. That’s a contradiction.

This rends a huge hole in God’s foreknowledge, under the simple foreknowledge view. The downstream consequences of Abram’s faith are history shaping. Any events resulting from any prophecy could not be foreknown, under a simple foreknowledge view.

The answer is of course that God knew that His prophecy would motivate Abram to believe and obey. But that’s beyond simple foreknowledge, and gets into middle knowledge.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Election Heartbreak

This election was heartbreaking.   It’s heartbreaking that our best choices were a heretic and an apostate.   It’s heartbreaking to see most Americans vote against biblical morals on abortion and homosexuality.  It’s heartbreaking for me to realize that the “liberal media” is not some loud minority view, but in some cases represents the majority view.   It’s heartbreaking that my kids will inherit socialism and massive debt.  My hope is in Christ alone.  He alone can bring good out of this.  He alone can save America.  He alone makes all things new. 

Monday, November 5, 2012

Habemus Papam

The election of a new Coptic Pope is a good reminder that Rome isn't the only ancient church claiming to be the one true church.  (link) Rome and Alexandria split over a bit of theology that would by today's standards look trivial.  Same with Rome and the East.  Makes you wonder, did they take theology more seriously back then?  Or were the theological issues only the pretext and the political autonomy was the real goal?  Probably both.  In any case,  the ancient church was not perfectly united in the idea that the Pope in Rome was the boss. 

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Tertullian - Freedom of Religion a Fundamental Human Right

You think that others, too, are gods, whom we know to be devils. However, it is a fundamental human right, a privilege of nature, that every man should worship according to his own convictions: one man’s religion neither harms nor helps another man. It is assuredly no part of religion to compel religion—to which free-will and not force should lead us—the sacrificial victims even being required of a willing mind. You will render no real service to your gods by compelling us to sacrifice. For they can have no desire of offerings from the unwilling, unless they are animated by a spirit of contention, which is a thing altogether undivine. (link)

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Survey Showing Most People are Determinists?

Eddy Nahmias, Stephen Morris, Thomas Nadelhoffer, and Jason Turner conducted a survey on free will.[i]  They argue these studies suggest that ordinary people’s pre-theoretical intuitions about free will and responsibility do not support incompatibilism.  It appears to be false—or certainly too hasty—to claim that ‘‘most ordinary persons. . . believe there is some kind of conflict between freedom and determinism’’ (Kane, 1999, p. 218).  In this post, I am going to dispute their interpretations of the results of their study. 

The surveyors only present the results of a doubly revamped survey in their paper.  Of the first round they say: “In some initial surveys we found that people do not understand the concept ‘determinism’ in the technical way philosophers use it. Rather, they tend to define ‘determinism’ in contrast with free will.” (565)  Likewise they report “Examples of participants’ definitions of ‘determinism’ include: ‘‘Being unable to choose’’, ‘‘That people have a set fate’’, and ‘‘The lack of free will’’. Many others thought it meant ‘determined’, as in ‘resolute’. (579)   Here’s how they interpret these results: “It does not suggest that people consider ‘determinism’, as defined in (one of ) the technical ways philosophers define it, to be incompatible with free will or moral responsibility. Rather, it seems that many people think ‘determinism’ means the opposite of free will, as suggested by the phrase ‘the problem of free will and determinism’.
Seeing what questions they asked and the numbers on the responses would have been helpful.  But even based on what has been given, their interpretation looks highly doubtful.  The understanding of determinism and it’s relation to free will is exactly what’s in question.  Do most people believe determinism result in us not having choices, having a fate, lacking free will?  According to the first survey, yes they do.  But that undermines the surveyors conclusion. 

In any case, the study was changed.  But again, libertarian looking results led to a revision.  In pilot studies we found that some participants seemed to fail to reason conditionally (e.g., given their explanations on the back of the survey, some seemed to assume that the scenario is impossible because Jeremy has free will, rather than making judgments about Jeremy’s freedom on the assumption that the scenario is actual). To correct for this problem, Question 1 asked participants whether they think the scenario is possible (the majority responded ‘‘no’’, offering various reasons on the back of the survey).”  The survey question assumed determinism, so most of the participants objected to the question.   So the survey was changed to allow the respondents to say the scenario involving determinism was impossible.  Most people said no. 
That’s three strikes against the conclusion.  Now let’s look at the questions in their final form:
Scenario: Imagine that in the next century we discover all the laws of nature, and we build a supercomputer which can deduce from these laws of nature and from the current state of everything in the world exactly what will be happening in the world at any future time. It can look at everything about the way the world is and predict everything about how it will be with 100% accuracy. Suppose that such a supercomputer existed, and it looks at the state of the universe at a certain time on March 25, 2150 AD, 20 years before Jeremy Hall is born. The computer then deduces from this information and the laws of nature that Jeremy will definitely rob Fidelity Bank at 6:00 pm on January 26, 2195. As always, the supercomputer’s prediction is correct; Jeremy robs Fidelity Bank at 6:00 pm on January 26, 2195.
Computer Makes Prediction (2150) ------->  Jeremy is Born  (2170) ------>  Jeremy robs a bank (2195)
Figure 1 Jeremy Case 1: Bank Robbing Scenario.
When asked to “suspend disbelief” about the scenario, 76% said Jeremy had free will, 68% said Jeremy was blameworthy and 67% said Jeremy could have chosen otherwise.
It’s reasonably clear the scenario implies determinism (that’s why most objected to it).  One problem is I would have answered the questions the same way.  I am a libertarian, but if God told me libertarianism is false and determinism is true, I would become a compatibilist rather than a hyper-Calvinist.  So these survey results do not support the surveyors conclusion.  They don’t even measure if people believe in libertarian free will or not.  Rather, they test that if people learned they were wrong about libertarianism, would they become compatibilists or hard determinists. 
Let’s look at the second survey scenario.
Scenario. Imagine there is a world where the beliefs and values of every person are caused completely by the combination of one’s genes and one’s environment. For instance, one day in this world, two identical twins, named Fred and Barney, are born to a mother who puts them up for adoption. Fred is adopted by the Jerksons and Barney is adopted by the Kindersons. In Fred’s case, his genes and his upbringing by the selfish Jerkson family have caused him to value money above all else and to believe it is OK to acquire money however you can. In Barney’s case, his (identical) genes and his upbringing by the kindly Kinderson family have caused him to value honesty above all else and to believe one should always respect others’ property. Both Fred and Barney are intelligent individuals who are capable of deliberating about what they do. One day Fred and Barney each happen to find a wallet containing $1000 and the identification of the owner (neither man knows the owner). Each man is sure there is nobody else around. After deliberation, Fred Jerkson, because of his beliefs and values, keeps the money. After deliberation, Barney Kinderson, because of his beliefs and values, returns the wallet to its owner. Given that, in this world, one’s genes and environment completely cause one’s beliefs and values, it is true that if Fred had been adopted by the Kindersons, he would have had the beliefs and values that would have caused him to return the wallet; and if Barney had been adopted by the Jerksons, he would have had the beliefs and values that would have caused him to keep the wallet.
When asked about this scenario, 76% said Fred and Barney had free will, 60% said Fred is blameworthy and 76% said Fred and Barney could have done otherwise. 
The problem with this scenario is that determinism accounts for who we are but not what we do.  Only on a weakened counterfactual theory of causation does this scenario present causal determinism.  So the results do not support the authors conclusion.  They run the risk of backfiring.  Given who we are is determined, what we do is not determined in that we still have free will, still are morally responsible and still are able to do otherwise than we do. 
I have no doubt that developing an unbiased survey would be difficult.  Maybe other surveys do a better job.  But this one provides evidence that the common man view is libertarian rather than determinist.

[i] Eddy Nahmias, Stephen Morris, Thomas Nadelhoffer, and Jason Turner. Surveying Freedom: Folk Intuitions about Free Will and Moral Responsibility. Philosophical Psychology. Vol. 18, No. 5, October 2005, pp. 561–584. 

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

1 Corinthians 10:13 teaches Libertarian Free Will

1 Corinthians 10:13 states: No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.

Paul claims God's faithfulness in light of what some Jews did, such as grumble in the desert. Not all the Israelites fell into sin, but many did, even though God always provides His people with an exit path. That God does not allow unbearable temptations is a frank expression of His faithfulness. The application for Paul's audience and Christians generally is that every time we are tempted, God gives us the ability not to yield. Sadly we sometimes do give in to temptation, even though we are able to do otherwise. 

Most people agree the Bible teaches libertarian free will without further ado.  But some, perhaps those from Missouri, need details, so this post attempts to provide argumentation that 1 Corinthians 10:13 teaches libertarian free will.  First I will explain the text.  Then I will point out problems with determinist readings.  Finally, I will deal with objections to the libertarian reading.

Monday, October 15, 2012

WLC statement "Calvin was a hyper-Calvinist"

William Lane Craig did say he thinks Calvin was a hyper-Calvinist.  (see Defenders Podcasts section 17 The Doctrine of Man, lesson 13).  Dr. White pokes fun at this statement in his intro to "Radio Free Geneva" and recently someone cited this as evidence that Dr. Craig does not understand Calvinism.  While Dr. Craig was speaking loosely, I am sure if pressed on the point he would agree there are differences between John Calvin and say Vince Chung or David Englesma’s (or if you disagree they are hyper-Calvinist, insert your favorite hyper-Calvinist).  Rather, he's saying Calvin was equally deterministic as Chung and Englesma. 

The context of Dr. Craig's statement was an extended discussion on if Calvinism paradoxicly asserts both libertarian freedom and divine determinism.  Some of Dr. Craig's students were arguing both are true and somehow it all works out.  As a response to show that Calvinism is fully deterministic and does not include libertarian freedom, Dr. Craig said:

"I think Calvin was a hyper Calvinist, as I read Calvin I think was a hard line, strong Calvinist and the people who say I am a Calvinist, but not a hyper-Calvinist, I don't see the distinction in Calvin between those two.  And I don't say that to be critical, but to understand the man's view.  I think his view was that God determines everything that happens even sinful actions."  - in the podcast, start at 20 minutes in, though this statement happens at about 27 minutes in.

In other words, Dr. Craig was using hyper-Calvinism in a non-technical sense, that God is the source of all sin and evil, in that He causally determines it.  And his point was "you think Calvinism doesn't include this idea - but it does.  I do not think Dr. Craig was saying Calvinists don't evangelize and if asked, I am guessing he would say so.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Book Review: Whomever He Wills - Chapter 3 Unconditional Election

Dr. Andrew Davis wrote chapter 3 of Whomever He Wills1, which counters Dr. Richard Land's chapter in Whosoever Wills called Congruent Election.  Two high level observations before digging into the details.  First, Dr. Davis does not get into corporate election.  It's not Davis' fault - he is responding to Land and Land doesn't get into corporate election.  But given the popularity of corporate election among Traditionalists and other non-Calvinist, the chapter feels incomplete.  Second, Land constantly calls for a balanced view, one that accounts for passages on election as well as passages such as John 3:16, 1 Timothy 2:4-6 and 2 Peter 3:9, which express God's love for all and will for all to be saved.  Davis only deals with election passages - he doesn't touch texts expressing God's love and desire for all to be saved.  Maybe Davis' view is as balanced as Land would like, but his treatment in this chapter is not.

The first thing about this chapter that really caught my eye was Davis' comments on 1 Corinthians 1:26-31.  Davis says "God specifically chose certain kinds of people (the "foolish", the weak, the lowly, the despised) far more than others (the wise, the influential, those of noble birth, the strong).  This choosing on God's part was to humble the arrogance of man, so that people would realize that it is only because of God that any of us are Christians" (p.39).  This is conditional election, not unconditional. Granted God isn't choosing those who work or believers, but rather people who are broke as a joke.  But a condition is a condition.  I doubt this understanding can be squared with Westminster Confession of Faith's denial of any conditions or anything in the creature behind election.  "Those of mankind that are predestinated unto life, God, before the foundation of the world was laid, according to His eternal and immutable purpose, and the secret counsel and good pleasure of His will, has chosen, in Christ, unto everlasting glory, out of His mere free grace and love, without any foresight of faith, or good works, or perseverance in either of them, or any other thing in the creature, as conditions, or causes moving Him thereunto." (link)  See the same statement in chapter 3 section 5 of the 1689 London Baptist Confession (link).  In short, Calvinism denies the reasons for election is something outside of God, and wealth, or the lack thereof is something outside of God. 

When defining unconditional election, Davis again appeals to the conditions of foolishness, weakness and poverty, to avoid the implication that an unconditional election is random and God Himself doesn't know why He elects this person and not that person.  To argue against this idea of randomness, Davis says God elects mostly people who are foolish, weak, and despised in the eyes of the world so that He can shame the powerful, rich and arrogant.   So Davis prefers "sovereign election" to the term "unconditional election". (p.41) Davis seems to see the problem.  Choices are based on conditions in the things chosen or they are random.  The very phrase "for so it seemed good in thy sight" implies a condition in God's choice.  But Calvinism denies election is conditional while also denying election is random.  But there is no third option.  Davis' solution is to find some harmless conditions to base election on.  I will leave it to Calvinists to determine if he should be voted out of the tribe or not.  My main concern is that Davis' misunderstands 1 Corinthians 1:26-29, which removes financial status as a condition for election rather than setting it up as one.  Also, his view is inconsistent with many of his later arguments, such as his argument that since election is before time, it must be unconditional (p. 60-64).

A second point where I think Davis gets off track is when he says "Nicholas Grevinchoven (1593-1632), in a tract written against Puritan William Ames, says that faith is not merely a necessary condition in him that is to be elect, but a cause moving the will of God to elect the one who has it.  (p44).  Grevinchoven never said this.  John Owen in the Display of Arminianism summarizes Grevinchoven's view in this way, but these are not Grevinchoven's words - Owen's clearly distinguishes between his summary and Grevinchoven's actual statement, which says nothing of faith causing election. (link)  This wrong turn down bad road leads Davis to spend pages on how causes precede effects and worse, thinking that Traditionalist make faith a work that merits salvation and gives man God's glory in salvation.2  Faith does not save, nor does it cause God to save. If one man believed and another did not, both would be cast into hell, if God does not choose to have mercy on the believer.  Most of Davis' pages 58 to 64 and pages 70 to 73 labor under this misconception.

Davis tackles the question of how God knows the future. He appeals to Isaiah 46:9-10 as evidence that God knows the future because He plans and determines it (45) and rejects the idea that God looks down the corridors of time, because that is like God learning and discovering. (58) While Isaiah 46:9-11 does indicate that God not only predicted Cyrus’ conquest, He also planned it, what it does not say is that God’s plan is how He knows the future.   Davis seems to confuse the question of why an event is future with how does God know the future.  Sure God's plan is part of the reason for Cyrus' conquest.  Maybe that involved knowledge of how Cyrus would freely choose, maybe it doesn't.  But that all goes to why Cyrus' conquest and not some other event is future.  It does not tell us how God knows the future.  Probably Davis has some philosophical beliefs that drive his interpretation of this text (something like unless an event has been determined at a given time it cannot be known at that time).  But he doesn't get into such presuppositions, and it's not obvious that any argument for such a principle could be inferred from this text.

The heart of Davis' chapter is his explanation of Romans 9-11.  He uses Romans 9:1-3 to argue that Paul is concerned with the salvation of Jewish people.  However, when he gets to Romans 9:6-9, Davis makes a leap to say the passage is about individual election to salvation.  He says:  God’s word has not failed! Why? “Because not all who are descended from Israel are Israel” (Romans 9:6). There is a subset of the physical descendants of Abraham who are also spiritual children of Abraham as well. The true “Israel” are the elect, chosen from before the foundation of the world. The doctrine of election shows that God never fails to achieve His saving purposes in any single individual case. God will most certainly save all the elect, and not a single one will be lost. (p. 50)  While Paul reveals a spiritual aspect to the OT texts, he does not say that spiritual aspect is individual election.  Rather it's salvation.  Most of the time, Paul quotes or paraphrases the Old Testament, but Paul does step away from the Old Testament one time so we can clearly see how he is applying the OT to his current audience.  Paul's clarifying statement is: "Through Isaac shall your offspring be named". This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring.  While the difference between election and salvation is subtle, it is important.  To be counted as God's offspring is to be in God's family, which is to be saved, not just elected.  Paul is using God's promise of Isaac to show that God's promise and act of adopting us into His family is what saves, not birthright.

Was Israel as a nation elected?  Let's assume that Davis is right that Paul is teaching individual election in Romans 9:6-9.  This means Paul finds individual election in the primary Genesis narratives on God's election of the patriarchs - the very passages the Jews look to to explain their National Election.  The Jews say "we are God's chosen people" and Paul responds "no your not, you never were God's chosen people".  If Davis is right about Romans 9:6-9, then Israel's national election is gone.  But this contradicts Davis' own interpretation of Malachi 1 and Romans 11, which he says speaks of Israel's national election (p.51).

Davis is on the horns of a dilemma.  On the one hand, the Old Testament texts Paul cites are about National election to certain non-saving blessings - they are not about individual election to salvation.  On the other hand, Paul does not discuss two elections in Romans 9 - one the national election of the Hebrews, the other individual election to salvation. Romans 9 doesn't speak of two elections.

Regarding Romans 9:11-13, Davis acknowledges that Malachi 1 is speaking of nations not individuals, but then argues Paul in Romans 9 is speaking of individuals, not nations. He cites two reasons: 1) Esau is the quintessential example of an unbeliever and 2) Paul is concerned with the salvation of individual Jews (p.51).  But why would Esau's behavior matter - he was rejected before he did anything evil.  As for Paul's concern for individual salvation, that's true, but again, Davis trades merciful salvation for unconditional election.  Paul is applying the OT texts to show that salvation is based on God's mercy rather than works or nationality.  God did everything possible to show the establishment of Israel was His doing and not based on nationality or works.  He chose between twins.  He chose before they had done anything good.  He reversed the order of birthright, by choosing the younger.  In the same way, salvation is God's doing, it's not based on nationality or works.   

Next Davis engages Wesley's comment that scripture cannot prove that God is worse than the Devil and challenges anyone to go verse by verse through Romans 9.  Wesley did so in his commentaries and again in his treatise Predestination Calmly Considered.  Here's a link to bunches of non-Calvinists going through Romans 9 verse by verse.  (link)  

I can agree with much of what Davis says on Romans 9:14-16. Human salvation is not for us a matter of justice but a matter of mercy. If God gave us justice, we would all be eternally lost. God does not owe mercy to any sinner. So, by shifting his language significantly (is God unjust?, no God is merciful as He wills), Paul shows how salvation is not a matter of justice but of mercy, and that mercy is given as a measure of God’s sovereign freedom (p.55)  Eternal life is not our due - no matter how hard we work.  Davis argues that the justice complaint only makes sense if the passage is about unconditional election, but the Jews would have complained that God was unfair, given they worked very hard for eternal life, only to be told they were rejected.

Davis's comment on Romans 9:17-18 is that the true Arminian viewpoint has no room whatsoever for any action on God's part of hardening a human heart. If by true, he means strawman, OK.  Otherwise I refer you to Arminius' two public disputations on the providence of God concerning evil.  (Disputations 9 & 10)  Hardening is an in depth subject and there is good reason to question if Pharaoh could have let the Hebrews go even while being hardened.  But assuming he could not, his hardening was still a punishment for killing the Hebrew children and arrogantly refusing to let God's people go - sins committed before he was hardened.

I'll very briefly touch on some other passages Davis mentions.  Generally Davis presents the Calvinist view of these texts and doesn't engage non-Calvinist interpretations, so I will just briefly explain how I understand the texts.  The election in Romans 11 seems corporate to me - the olive tree with branches being cut off and grafted in sound like individuals joining the corporate body.  Davis lists several texts he says teach either election causes faith or reprobation is the reason for unbelief.  In Acts 13:48, tasso might be middle rather than passive - the sense being they disposed themselves.  But even if it's passive, and God arranged them to eternal life, it's more likely to point to some event in the context, like their being glad and glorifying the word of the Lord, rather than God's election from eternity past.  James 2:5 could be saying being rich in faith is the condition of the people being elected rather than the false dichotomy Davis presents us with: either the condition for election or something election causes.

1 Thessalonians 2:13 is grammatically ambiguous as to if we are chosen in belief in the truth or unto belief in the truth.  In John 10:24-27, the Jews are trying to trap Jesus, but He points out that the Father has repeatedly back up Christ's words with miracles as proof, yet the Jews did not believe and become Christ's sheep.  The Pharisees do not believe now, because they did not believe (and become sheep) then. If they had become sheep, they would have recognized Christ as their Sheppard and would have had a sheepish attitude which is disposed to follow.  In John 6, Davis equates "the Father's giving" to election, but there's no contextual reason to think that.  Rather, the Father gives, those who have heard and learned from Him, to Christ (John 6:45). Learning takes both a Teacher and student - it's not a unilateral process.  The election in John 6:70 is clearly to apostleship rather than salvation - otherwise it would not have included Judas.

Davis says that per Traditionalism, the heart is a holy of holies into which God is not permitted to venture lest He defile human freedom (p.74).  God works in our hearts - no Traditionalist denies this.  The question is not if but how God works in our hearts. But it is no limitation of power to say God cannot do the illogical like make a round square.  Likewise, a causally determined free event is a contradiction, and so denying God could do such is no limit to omnipotence.  

1  Whomever He Wills A Surprising Display of Sovereign Mercy.  Edited by Matthew Barrett and Thomas Nettles.  Founders Press.  2012

2  Grevinchoven's comment, as translated by Owen, does sound bad.  But Corvinius argues at lenght that Grevinchoven was misunderstood in chapter 17, page 266 of his work against Peter Molin.  (link)        But more to the point, why is Grevinchoven quoted as representative of Traditionalists?  Grevinchoven's works have basically not passed the test of time - his writings are not influential today.  Probably Davis quotes him because he was extreme, not because he was influential.  But that would be like a Traditionalist quoting Piscator's statements that predestination is fatalism, and saying they represent Calvinism.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Middle Knowledge Response to "Salvation is up to man" Argument

Many Calvinists argue that if conversion is free in a libertarian sense, then we have some role in if we end up saved or not, an so we get some credit for ending up saved.  Now the simplest line of response is we play a role in believing, but not in salvation.  Believing does not save and believers would still go to hell, were it not for God's mercy.

However, the lingering problem is that given God's decision, to save believers and offer of salvation, God obligates Himself to save believers.  Given this covenant, God should save believers and it would be morally wrong not to.  Consider Hebrews 6:

13 For when God made a promise to Abraham, since he had no one greater by whom to swear, he swore by himself,14 saying, “Surely I will bless you and multiply you.” 15 And thus Abraham, having patiently waited, obtained the promise. 16 For people swear by something greater than themselves, and in all their disputes an oath is final for confirmation. 17 So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it with an oath, 18 so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us. 19 We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, 20 where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.

This passage does teach the rock solid nature of God's promises, such that God is somewhat "locked in".  Given His promise, He is morally obligated to save believers and if we believe and take God up on the grace He offers, we are putting God in a position where morally He should save us.  

So God's promise makes the situation similar to legalism.  Per legalism, if we have enough good works, God should give us eternal life.  But given God's promise, if we believe, God should give us eternal life. 

One line of response it to argue the problem is non-unique.  Per Calvinism, believing is our action not God's. Per Calvinism, we are responsible for our actions.  So per Calvinism, we are responsible for our faith. However, this only spreads the problem, it doesn't solve it. 

Another more promising line of response is that what God promises is mercy and so what He gives is mercy.  So salvation is still mercy.  This is true, but it seems to create a contradiction rather than solve the problem.  God morally has to give something He doesn't morally have to give.

I wonder if open theists or those holding to simple foreknowledge have much more to offer by way of response, but middle knowledge is not done yet.

The real problem is treating God's decision to offer mercy to believers as separable from God's decision to have mercy on Joe and Timmy and Sue, who are believers.  While these events are separated by time and logically one helps explain the other - they need not be ontologically separate events in God's mind.  God knew who would believe if offered salvation through faith when deciding to offer salvation through faith or not.  The objection attempts to prize apart God's unified purpose and pit the elements against each other.  But on the other hand, if per simple foreknowledge or open theism, God did not know who would believe if offered salvation through faith, then God was not deciding to save Joe, Timmy and Sue while choosing to offer salvation to believers.  Hence, per open theism and simple foreknowledge, conversion does seem to prompt God to save. 

William Lane Craig said middle knowledge is one of the more fruitful theological concepts he has come across and he has used it to explain things like perseverance of the saints, inspiration of scripture and Christian particularism.  I agree and see it here explaining how God gets all the credit for salvation, even though we believe.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

The Necessity of Grace

Article two of the traditional understanding of the SBC view of God's plan of salvation (link) has been called Semi-Pelagian  herehere and here.  What is semi-Pelagianism?  The short answer is the denial that we need grace in order to believe in Christ.  The longer answer is that semi-Pelagianism is probably best defined in the Cannons of Orange (529AD) that condemned the view. (link

Here's the article that gets accused of Semi-Pelagianism:

Article Two: The Sinfulness of Man

We affirm that, because of the fall of Adam, every person inherits a nature and environment inclined toward sin and that every person who is capable of moral action will sin. Each person’s sin alone brings the wrath of a holy God, broken fellowship with Him, ever-worsening selfishness and destructiveness, death, and condemnation to an eternity in hell.

We deny that Adam’s sin resulted in the incapacitation of any person’s free will or rendered any person guilty before he has personally sinned. While no sinner is remotely capable of achieving salvation through his own effort, we deny that any sinner is saved apart from a free response to the Holy Spirit’s drawing through the Gospel.

The most criticized phrase is the denial of incapacitation of anyone's free will as a result of Adam's sin. However, the very next sentence denies sinners are saved apart from the Holy Spirit's drawing through the Gospel. Per Semi-Pelagianism, we don't need the Holy Spirit's drawing - we just need the man up their preaching. Further, 'drawing' is likely an allusion to 
John 6:44, and John 12:32 - texts commonly cited in support of God’s grace enabling us to believe. So unless the authors of the traditional view are using an abusive definition of drawing, this sentence cannot be read as consistent with Semi-Pelagianism. 

So the options seem to be, A) the Traditionalists are secret heretics hiding their views in plain sight, B) article two is self-contradictory in back-to-back sentences or C) the denial of incapacitation is consistent with man's need for super-natural previenient grace.

Traditionalists should be given the benefit of the doubt that they are not secret heretics. Traditionalists could be inconsistent, but that's not a very charitable thing to assume either – especially if there are viable alternatives. But let's explore the third option, that the denial of incapacitation is consistent with man's need for super-natural prevenient grace.

What if they are talking about incapacitation generally and denying the loss of libertarian free will? So when the Holy Spirit's drawing opens responding to the Gospel as an option to us, we are able to choose it. In this way, these back-to-back sentences can be reconciled without contradiction or semi-Pelagianism.
Many Calvinists assert a link between man’s depravity and the impossibility of libertarian freedom.  While Calvinists and Traditionalists agree that we need God’s grace to be able to trust and obey Him our reservations come when Calvinists demand that the only grace that would work must be irresistible. It’s kind of like saying a door can be opened with an oil can and someone else saying no, it’s going to take a nuclear bomb.  Either way the door can’t be opened, but why does it have to be nuked?

Desire is a necessary condition for choice.  Man, without God’s grace, does not desire to believe and therefore cannot believe without grace. (John 6:44, 15:5, Romans 8:7) The drawing of the Holy Sprit’s drawing shows us our need for Christ and gives us a desire to believe, such that we are able to believe, but do not have to believe. However, even though we agree with Calvinists on the necessity of grace, major difference remain.
1.       On the nature of grace we disagree that it must be irresistible and cannot be resistible
2.      On the extent of grace we disagree God reaches out only to the elect and is not drawing the non-elect.
3.      Without grace, we disagree that a man cannot choose between sinful options (per Calvinism, if God decrees you will smoke pot, you cannot yell at your wife).
4.      With respect to God’s character, we disagree God treats disabled men as if they were able.
So some serious differences remain, even if we agree we need God’s grace to be able to believe.  Article two does not deny our need for grace; it’s targeted at the Calvinist idea that we could only respond to God unless God first monergistically regenerates us using irresistible grace.

When the TS first came out there was a lot of fuss about article two, but many of the clarifications that came out made it clear that the necessity for grace was not being denied.  Specifically, the author of the statement, Dr. Erik Hankins, said:
First, we will never concede the charge of Semi-Pelagianism; it is patently false. Semi-Pelagianism is the view that man initiates his own salvation and that grace attends subsequently. Even a cursory reading of the Statement reveals that such an understanding of salvation could not be further from our intention. The language of the affirmation in Article Two is drawn almost verbatim from the BF&M. Most of the criticism has been directed at the “denial,” which is often divorced from its connection to the affirmation and criticized without respect to the rest of the Statement. Here is what we mean and what we will be glad to debate: We are all ruined by Adam’s sin. We are born with a sin nature. We all persistently, perniciously, and at every opportunity want to be Lord of our own lives. We cannot save ourselves. The power of the Gospel through the initiative and drawing of the Holy Spirit is our only hope, and it alone is sufficient to pierce our spiritual darkness and rescue us. But our real response to the Gospel of Christ in the power of the Spirit matters to God.

...Do the authors and signers of the Statement think that people can save themselves? No! Do they think people can do anything to merit their salvation? No! Do they think anyone can trust Christ apart from the initiative of God and the drawing of the Holy Spirit? No! But they also don’t think that most people are predestined to an eternity in hell no matter what. And they do think that every person has the opportunity to respond to the Gospel under the leadership of the Spirit who is willing to move upon the heart of anyone. In this debate, the charge of Semi-Pelagianism is little more than a “bogeyman.” It’s a label that intimidates and confuses, and we emphatically reject it.  
In addition, just prior to issuing the statement, Dr. Hankins said:
God initiates the process; He imbues it with His Spirit’s enabling. When people respond in faith, God acts according to His promises to seal that relationship for eternity, welding the will of the believer to His own, setting the believer free by His sovereign embrace. (link)
He also said:
Because of sin, humans are in a disastrous state, unable to alter the trajectory of their rebellion against God, unable to clear their debt of sin against Him, unable to work their way back to Him through their best efforts.
To be sure, they are not capable of responding in faith without God’s special revelation of Himself through Christ and His Spirit’s drawing. Any morally responsible person, however, who encounters the gospel in the power of the Spirit (even though he has a will so damaged by sin that he is incapable of having a relationship with God without the gospel) is able to respond to that “well-meant offer.”
The anthropological presupposition is that no one can save himself, but anyone can be saved. No person ever takes the first step toward God. Humankind’s history is broken; its destiny is death; it’s context darkness; its reality is rebellion. This sinfulness has put us out of fellowship with God and under the verdict of eternal separation. Through the person and work of Christ, which is proclaimed through the gospel, God reaches out His hand of “first love,” providing a ground of salvation to which any one can respond in faith. If people do not hear and respond to this gospel, they will not be saved. (link)
So according to the author of the traditionalist statement, man is naturally lost and incapable of saving himself or believing without God’s grace taking the initiative and the Holy Spirit’s drawing and working on our hearts to enable us to believe.  That’s the exact opposite of the semi-Pelagian denial of the necessity of grace.
When I speak with some people about Traditionalism, I get the feeling they think I am going to rip the mask off at some point and reveal that I really am a semi-Pelagian. To the extent that the  “big names” have carelessly thrown out the semi-Pelagian charge they have done some damage. 
Now I doubt Calvinist SBC leaders really think Traditionalists are semi-Pelagians.  If there really thought heresy had infiltrated the SBC, why not bring it up at the 2012 SBC Convention?  Why seek for unity with heretics?  The first Calvinists called their Arminian opponents semi-Pelagian and now history is repeating.  Hopefully anyone reading this will not allow this charge of semi-Pelagianism to prejudice the discussion of Calvinism in the SBC.