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Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Libertarianism by any other name...

... is libertarianism. But non-libertarianism by the same name is of course something different. Confusion abounds...

Most libertarians hold to the Principle of Alternative Possibilities (PAP). Yet a growing number of libertarians are abandoning their libertarian roots and embracing a Frankfurt version of libertarianism, which is no libertarianism at all. These “libertarians” don’t think they need to hold to PAP. These Frankfurt-libertarians hold to Frankfurt Counterexamples (FCE), which are aimed at bringing to naught the view that a moral agent is responsible for an action only if he could have acted contrary. The aim is to bring reconciliation between responsibility and determinism by arguing that responsibility does not require the freedom to do otherwise. The counterexamples can get quite creative, involving demons and chemicals and all sorts of will-altering stimuli.

With regard to all these scenarios that posit chips in brains and the like (certain FCE's), they can be refuted thusly with respect to their usefulness: Either determinism is true or it isn’t. There is no third option. If determinism is true, then these illustrations of demons, drugs and chips are all moot; for all would be determined and responsibility would become a non-entity for the libertarian incompatibilist. Accordingly, if determinism is true, then these silly scenarios (FCE’s) do not achieve their intended usefulness, which is to show that responsibility need not be accompanied by alternative possibilities. Without responsibility (due to the assumption of determinism), one cannot show that responsibility can be upheld at all, let alone apart from alternative possibilities (AP). In other words, FCE’s don’t save the day by providing an alternative source of responsibility if determinism is indeed true. There simply would be no responsibility to be found (anywhere) in the face of determinism given a commitment to LFW as a necessary condition for responsibility.

A Reformed “grounding objection” refutation:

Now if determinism is false, then of course the demon who would operate the chip could not know whether he actually would need to operate the chip in order to achieve his desired end until after the critical point of choice; there would be no grounding of the truth value of what the agent with the implanted chip would do under any set of circumstances. (Obviously such an argument should not be palatable to Molinists but strangely enough it’s employed by more than just Open Theists and Calvinists.) If the demon wants the agent to choose X, then the only way in which he could ensure that he does choose X is to externally cause him to choose X necessarily, which of course does not protect moral responsibility (in such cases) from a libertarian perspective. If the demon sees that it is very probable that the agent will choose X, then the demon might roll the dice and leave the agent alone in order that he choose X “freely”. Obviously in such cases given the contingent nature of LFW the desired end might not obtain, but the choice would be free and in accordance with libertarianism. Consequently, given libertarian freedom as a necessary condition for moral accountability, AP must therefore always apply in such instances of choosing with moral relevance since the demon, in order to ensure his desired outcome, would always have to preempt the unknowable choice with a short-sharp-shock. Pure contingency defies truth values that can be foreknown, therefore, the only way that AP can be taken away is to eliminate them entirely by external causality (simultaneously undermining libertarian moral accountability). It is impossible to ensure a desired outcome in this hands-off Frankfurter manner given radical free agency.

Desperation even more - will formation:

In a last ditch effort a wannabe libertarian might posit that the foreknowledge required to pull off this mad-scientist routine is bound up in the insights into an agent’s will-forming, which is to say that the a future creaturely choice can be known with certainty due to the predictability of a will that has been formed over time. The problem with such an idea is that will forming theorists don’t explain the sufficient condition(s) that must be met in order for a choice to no longer be purely contingent. Why do certain constraints upon the will that are brought to bear from prior (alleged) libertarian choices have more determining power over future choices, to the point of making those future choices metaphysically necessary (i.e. having no feasible alternative possibility), than other types of constraints? And if there can be no distinction made, then why should we believe that there are any?

An internal critique using Molinistic premises:

Finally, there is a subtle equivocation with these scenarios that utilize FCE’s. By addressing the equivocation we can attack the absurdity of the position more powerfully (on Molinistic terms!), while granting exhaustive omniscience for the demon and also allowing for the pure contingency of choice that libertarian freedom requires. In those cases where the agent chooses without outside chip-influence, he must do so (for the libertarian) from a metaphysical posture that is free. Accordingly, metaphysically speaking he in fact could choose contrary in no less a sense than if he was not wired to an implanted chip. It is only in those cases that he is actually externally prevented from choosing what he would that he could not choose contrary to how he would. What is relevant is that when he chooses freely he does so in a metaphysical sense, which presupposes true alternative possibilities of the metaphysical kind. The impossibility of choosing otherwise is only a logical one, constrained by the fact that it is true that the action will be physically prevented if it would occur: If the agent would choose ~X feely, then he’d be externally caused to choose X necessarily. Yet notwithstanding, when he would choose X freely, he indeed could (metaphysically speaking) choose ~X, otherwise he would not be able to choose X freely! {It boggles the mind why Molinists would undermine their own hard-fought distinctions between would-counterfactuals and might-counterfactuals by employing such novel attempts to move toward certain deterministic tendencies.}

This all reminds me of certain movements within Romanism. At one time (before 1994 and certainly 1965) it meant something to be a Romanist. Now one thinks he can deny Trent and still be Romanist.

Happy Christmas!

Ron


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Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Molinism & The "Five Points" - Reconcilable?


I said many years ago that one of the biggest threats to Reformed theology is the high-Arminianism of Molinism. Many have been taken captive by its subtle charm, but in the final analyses it is nothing more than dressed-up (rank) Arminianism. There is really nothing new under the sun.

Below I have tried to address, although briefly, Libertarian free will (LFW) and its implications with respect to what is commonly called the "Five Points". LFW is the pillar upon which Molinism stands or falls; so if LFW is not compatible with the Five Points, then neither is Molinism.

To affirm libertarian freedom and all its implications is to deny the intentions of the “Five Points”. Yet, strangely enough, it is my experience that a growing number of Christians think that Molinism is compatible with Reformed thought in general and the "Five Points" in particular.

I found it easier to discuss LFW as it comes to bear upon the Five Points in an unusual order of ITPUL, which sounds more middle eastern than Dutch, I know. But do keep in mind that tulips, although associated with Holland, originated in the Persian Empire!

I
For libertarians, men can choose between alternatives with equal ease - according to their own agent-causation, from a posture of neutrality. Accordingly, to affirm LFW is to deny that irresistible grace is necessary for a dead man to repent and believe.

Moreover, libertarians affirm that the only choices men can be held morally responsible for are choices that are libertarian in nature. The reason being, it is held by libertarians that choices that are caused by something other than the agent (such as in the case of irresistible grace) are deemed as robotic puppetry and consequently not morally relevant with respect to human responsibility. However, when man chooses according to irresistible grace, the choice made is indeed morally relevant with respect to human responsibility, which is contrary to the libertarian tenet that only agent-caused choices are relevant in this way. Coming to Christ by irresistible grace is in fact the most morally relevant choice a man will ever make and one for which he will be held accountable to have made. Consequently, one may not affirm irresistible grace on the suppositions peculiar to LFW.

T
If man can come to Christ apart from irresistible grace then he cannot be totally depraved by definition.

P
Sophisticated libertarians may affirm “eternal security” but NOT the grace required for the perseverance of the saints, which is nothing other than God’s preservation of the saints. This is a bit nuanced (but not too bad) so bear with me. The bottom line is this: Perseverance of the saints entails God’s keeping of the saints throughout the Christian life by the sovereign and will-invading power of the Holy Spirit. The doctrine of perseverance, therefore, presupposes that our persevering faith is not according to a will that is so free as to be able to reject Christ, but rather our perseverance is according to a faith that is sovereignly sustained by the Holy Spirit.

The way in which some libertarians may hold onto "eternal security", which is not the same thing has upholding perseverance of the saints, is thusly:

For the libertarian, the reason God’s elect will not deny the faith is not because God will complete the work he has begun in men by causing them to truly believe until the end. Rather, the reason one will not lose his salvation is merely because God has chosen to actualize a world in which those that come to Christ according to their LFW will also choose by that same LFW not to depart from Christ. Although tricky-Molinists can “consistently” affirm eternal security in this way, they cannot do justice to the distinctly Calvinistic teaching that it is God who by his sovereign grace causes men to persevere. What must be grasped is that perseverance is not only concerned with the final result of bringing many saints to glory, but rather it is concerned with God’s part in how that end is achieved. Perseverance plainly teaches that man is kept by God. Whereas the tenets of LFW suggest that it is man - not God - who ultimately causes himself (through agent-causation) to (a) differ from another, (b) come to Christ and (c) remain in Christ. In sum, for the libertarian who affirms eternal security (not all do), it is accomplished this way: God chose to actualize a world in which those who come to Christ will cooperate according to their LFW and choose to remain in Christ, but it is possible that they won’t (due to their LFW) even though they will (by their LFW). They do not persevere by the Calvinistic notion of sovereign grace, but rather they persevere by cooperating with the quality of grace that God offers all men.

U
Unconditional election entails that God chooses men without any consideration for foreseen faith. For the libertarian, the proposition, “Ron would believe in such a circumstance if presented the gospel” is not grounded in God’s determination but in man’s free agency. For the libertarian, whether one is elect-able unto salvation is dependent upon whether the man would believe (according to the non-gift of LFW) if presented the gospel, which is conditional election. The doctrine of unconditional election presupposes that God could have elected unto salvation any fallen man had we wanted. Given LFW, it was only feasible that God could have chosen in Christ those who would cooperate with resistible grace.

L
The eternal design was that Christ's substitutionary and vicarious death was on behalf of only those who were (a) unconditionally elected in Christ, (b) totally depraved and (c & d) needed irresistible and persevering grace both to come to Christ and remain in him. Accordingly, a philosophy that damages any of the other four points also undermines particular redemption.


Ron

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Sunday, November 22, 2009

Free Will - Confusion Abounds



The nature of man, whether pre-fall, post-fall and unconverted, post fall and converted, or glorified, does not affect the discussion of whether any moral being can act contrary to how he does. No moral being can have libertarian free will (LFW).

LFW is simply the power of contrary choice. Put another way, it is the ability to choose with equal ease between alternatives out of pure contingency and no necessity. Consequently, if one is endowed with LFW, he can choose contrary to what God knows he will choose. (In fact, if God has LFW, then he too can choose contrary to what he knows he will choose!) My position on the matter is straightforward. LFW is a philosophical surd. If it is true that one can choose something different than he will choose, then the future God believes will come to pass might not come to pass; and even if the future does come to pass as God believes, he will not have been thoroughly justified in his belief. He would have just been lucky, or at best very insightful.

A brief word about the relationship between the truth of a future choice, God’s knowledge and the grounding of that truth is in order. God’s knowledge of a future choice does not ensure its fruition. Rather, it presupposes the deterministic nature of its fruition. Knowledge is receptive not causative. Accordingly, that a choice cannot be contrary to what it ends up being is not a matter of God’s foreknowledge but rather it is a matter that it is true that the choice will come to pass. God knows it because it is true, for God knows all truth. The grounding of that truth is of course God’s determination. In sum, God determines that it will be true that X chooses Y in circumstance Z, therefore, God knows it as true.

Confusion abounds, even in Reformed circles:

John Frame once noted:


“I don't know how many times I have asked candidates for licensure and ordination whether we are free from God's decree, and they have replied ‘No, because we are fallen.’ That is to confuse libertarianism (freedom from God's decree, ability to act without cause) with freedom from sin. In the former case, the fall is entirely irrelevant. Neither before nor after the fall did Adam have freedom in the libertarian sense. But freedom from sin is something different. Adam had that before the fall, but lost it as a result of the fall.”

I resonated with John’s observation the very first time I read his lament. This is a very serious matter. These men to whom John refers may have very well been ordained and licensed in Reformed denominations (or have gone on to teach other men at seminary; or if they've really arrived, have their own Blog!) - yet without any appreciation for the implications of their religious philosophy as it pertains to free will. So many Reformed people (including Reformed ministers as John rightly observes) are willing to assert that Adam prior to the fall could have chosen contrary to how he did. They index this radical freedom to the pre-fall nature, which is thought to have afforded a kind of freedom that was eventually lost. What is not appreciated by those who affirm such a metaphysic is that man’s nature determines no specific action of choice. The nature simply determines the moral quality of the particular choice that will necessarily occur according to the inclination at the moment of choice. So then, an unregenerate man will sin; his nature determines that he must. His nature, however, does not determine what sin he will choose. Consequently, the philosophy of LFW is not concerned with the general category of choice (whether it is sinful or not), which is dictated by one’s nature, but rather it is concerned with the specific action of choice. If Adam could have just as easily not sinned when he did sin, then there is no reason why we should think that today we do not have the freedom to choose contrary to how we do choose. It is indubitable that Adam was created without a sin nature. He was created upright, in innocence and without any inclination toward sin. Yet he was mutable, so God could have decreed that Adam fall from innocence, which in God’s wisdom is the decree we live under. We may also note that it would have been consistent with Adam’s nature for God to have decreed (had He wanted) that Adam remain upright and innocent longer, or even indefinitely. Notwithstanding, in neither scenario could Adam operate contrary to the decree, just like we cannot act contrary to the decree today.

Prelapsarian considerations:

Consistent with Adam’s mutable pre-fall nature was his innocence; yet being mutable, he could fall from that innocence with utter consistency toward his mutable soul. Whereas after the fall, all we do must be tainted with sin and that cannot change outside of glorification. Therefore, it was available for God (had he wanted) to decree that Adam not sin, but given the fall it was not available to God to decree that we not sin since all our actions must be tainted with sin this side of glory. Notwithstanding, those are distinctions without a relevant difference that pertains to the question of whether Adam had a freedom to act contrary to how he would and in turn did. Let someone bring forth an argument rather than a mere assertion that concludes that the pre-fall / post-fall ontology of man is a relevant distinction with respect to Adam being more free than we to act contrary to God’s decree. Again, with respect to acting contrary to the truth of how we will act, not even God can do that, lest God can fool himself. Consequently, introducing the pre-fall state of Adam only clouds the issue of whether Adam could have chosen contrary to the decree. There is simply no additional freedom that Adam had relevant to us with respect to operating outside God’s decree. If Adam in his pre-fall nature could not act contrary to the decree that he would fall, then how can it be logically maintained (without equivocation) that Adam could have not sinned? It’s really as simple as 1, 2, 3.

1. Adam could not act contrary to God’s decree
2. God decreed that Adam sin
3. Adam could not act contrary to God’s decree that Adam sin

Or better yet:

1. If it is true that Adam could have acted contrary to God's decree, then it is true that God's decree could have been thwarted
2. It is false that God's decree could have been thwarted
3. Therefore, it is false that Adam could have acted contrary to God's decree

What inconsistent "Calvinists" do not appreciate is that they are really arguing like this: Adam would not act contrary to God's decree, but he could (in a metaphysical sense) have acted contrary to how he would. That combination of LFW and God's omniscience is not Calvinism but Molinism. Molinists assert that x will occur, not necessarily but contingently. Of course a contingent x, by definition, truly might not occur. Accordingly, Molinists are left with God knowing that x might not occur while knowing it will occur – but these are contradictory truths and, therefore, impossible for God to know. Accordingly, God’s foreknowledge of x presupposes the necessity of x for the simple reason that might and will are semantically antithetical and it is true that x will occur. Consequently, if x will occur, then it is false that it might occur.

Where these Christians also get tripped up is over this issue of Adam's "power to obey', which the Confession maintains. It is true that Adam, properly understood, had the power to obey. Nonetheless, the power to obey does not imply that Adam could have chosen contrary to how he did anymore than a car’s power to run can direct the car in a direction contrary to the way in which it ends up moving! The power the Confession speaks of is merely a potential. Indeed, it was possible that Adam could obey, but that only means that it would have been consistent with his nature to obey. In the like manner, it was also possible that he not obey. Yet since when does possibility inform us of actuality?

God is not a legalist:

If Adam intended to act sinfully and was tackled prior to acting upon his intention, wouldn't he have sinned just the same? Moreover, had Eve abstained from eating the forbidden fruit solely because she was concerned for her figure, would she not have sinned just the same in the eyes of God? Certainly God is not a legalist who overlooks the intentions of the heart! Consequently, the sin of eating came from a sinful intention that had occurred prior to the visible act that followed from that intention.

Mystery, mystery when there is no mystery:

The reason people call the first sin a mystery is because they begin their reasoning with the false premise that the act of taking and eating the forbidden fruit was the first sin. If we get back to first principles and focus on what precedes any volitional act, whether sinful or not, we can begin to recognize that the first sin was the desire to be like God and not the act that proceeded from that desire. Accordingly, the first sin was Adam’s nature upon becoming fallen, which correlates with his desire to be like God. Adam, in other words, had concupiscence prior to acting sinfully. To deny that Adam's first sinful act came from a nature that had already fallen is to affirm that a sinful act came from a non-sinful nature, a monstrosity indeed.The question that we should be concerned with is not how did an unrighteous act spring from an upright being (which is a question that proceeds from a false premise), but rather how did an upright being acquire a sinful intention to act sinfully? The answer is no different than the answer to the question of how does any intention and subsequent act come into existence. Doesn’t God providentially orchestrate circumstances that come before the souls of men thereby moving them by secondary causes to act in accordance with new inclinations that are brought into existence according to God’s providence that He decrees? By God's pre-interpretation of the otherwise brute particulars of providence, the intentions of men and their subsequent acts fall out as God so determines. For Calvinists to argue that an act of sin proceeded from an upright nature is to assert a contradiction – and no amount of mystery can save a contradiction! The only thing I find mysterious is that so many Calvinists find the entrance of sin into humanity so mysterious. Note well that I am not pretending to know how God pre-interprets particulars or how the mind of man relates to the movement of the body. That’s not in view at all. My simple point is that Calvinists do not generally find it mysterious that volitional acts necessarily follow from intentions and that God’s orchestrating of circumstances are an ordained means by which intentions that never existed before come into being. Why, therefore, should we not apply the same theological reasoning to the first sin as we do to God’s sovereignty over the intentions of fallen men? The mystery is the same. We don't know the details of how God brings to pass the intentions of the heart, but that is not peculiar to the first sin. It pertains to all intentions. Again, had Adam been tackled prior to eating the fruit, wouldn't his intention to eat have been sin? And wouldn't that intention have come from a fallen nature? Now did his intention to eat somehow not become sin because he was not tackled and actually did act according to his intention? Of course not! His sin was the intention of his heart (which could have only come from a nature that could produce such an intention), and he also sinned by acting on that intention. So the first sin was the fallen nature and the desire to be like God, then the intention to act and then the subsequent actions. Now is any good Calvinist going to say that we choose our intentions or our nature? No, but we are certainly responsible for them, for they are ours!

It's hard to know whether these professing Calvinists are just happily inconsistent with respect to the prelapsarian state, or do they carry their Arminian tendencies over into the postlapsarian era? I can't imagine that they carry it over into their theology of the converting work of the Spirit.

Ron
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Saturday, October 24, 2009

Gospel, Blessings and Obedience


There has been a debate raging for quite a while in the Reformed tradition regarding obedience and the gospel. In my estimation the terms are ill-defined, which might explain why the debate is not progressing very well. It might be helpful to make some initial observations regarding points of agreement that are unfortunately not often assumed by the opposing "camps" let alone articulated by them. I believe Escondido holds one view and it's hard to say who all holds the other. No institution does in my estimation. Both views are extreme (but in a sense noble); yet both contain truth.

1. The gospel as it is narrowly defined in 1 Corinthians 15 does not address obedience. The gospel in that context is an historical fact only. Jesus died for our sins, was buried and raised from the dead. Whereas the gospel that Paul is jealous to guard in Galatians has to do not with Christ’s work but rather the appropriation of that work: it is appropriated by grace through faith alone apart from ceremonial law-works. In neither of those two cases does the gospel address obedience. Both sides of the issue should agree.

2. Now leaving aside for a moment any discussion regarding (a) elect infants dying in infancy, (b) other elect persons incapable of being outwardly called by the word, and (c) infants God regenerates in infancy – both sides should also agree that adults who come to faith are justified upon appropriating Christ’s perfect obedience and satisfaction through the evangelical grace of faith alone, which is accompanied by the evangelical grace of repentance unto life, also a necessary condition for pardon. (WCF 15.3)

3. Both sides also agree that faith without works is dead.

4. With respect to the question of whether justifying faith is an obedient response to the gospel call - it should first be observed that a sinner who tries to obey the command to flee the wrath to come and turn to Christ does so either with a regenerate heart or out of enlightened self-interest. When the latter occurs, obviously no justifying faith is present, obedient or otherwise. Accordingly, what the discussion is about is whether faith from a regenerate heart is obedient. Both sides should agree here too.

5. The question that remains is whether repentance and faith are acts of obedience. Before finding an answer, I think there is at least one more point of agreement between the sides that should be mentioned. As committed Calvinists, both sides agree that God alone effects faith and repentance in the application of redemption.

Getting to the nub of the matter:

In one sense, if God alone effects justifying faith in dead sinners through the gifts of faith and repentance, then it is somewhat misleading to refer the such implanted graces as obedience. Consider the case of the sinner broken before God who all of a sudden is converted by the invading work of the Holy Spirit. Would we say that such a one who was burdened and heavy laden with his sin and finally found rest in Christ was being obedient, especially if conversion was wrought without even a whisper of a command! What would one be obeying in such a scenario? They would be fleeing into the arms of a loving Savior out of pure desire and without any command. That is why it's hard for me to believe that anyone who did not have a personal axe to grind would insist that we must always consider justifying faith obedient. Certainly Scripture will support the distinction between the mental "acts" of resting upon and receiving Christ, and the physical acts that proceed from such faith, such as feeding the poor, comforting the sick, loving our wives, serving in our churches, etc. Remember James' epistle?

Yet on the other hand, given that the grace of faith can be exercised in direct response to a command to repent and believe, then of course there is an appropriateness in referring to justifying faith as obedient in such cases, simply because it is a response to a command. Imagine another case - this time a person who was a hardened criminal and not burdened with his sin. Then imagine God quickening such a one in his tracks after his hearing the call to repent and believe. In such a case, it is most fitting to describe such a response as obedient to the command (while not forgetting that God granted the obedience).

The error that one is trying to guard against will often dictate the position he defends. If one is jealous to guard against the notion of merit, then of course he will recoil over the term obedient faith (in the realm of justification). If one wishes to fight against antinomianism, then he might prefer to speak in terms of the gospel's demands and use terms like obedient faith. However, we must be willing to notice that people come to Jesus in different ways - some by heeding God's command and others in utter shame. (Paul Helm touches upon this point in The Begginings (Word & Spirit in Conversion.)

Escondido certainly has the backing of the Confession in that the Confession distinguishes between faith and the acts that proceed from faith: “By this faith, a Christian believes… and acts differently upon that which each particular passage thereof contains; yielding obedience to the commands, etc. But the principle acts of saving faith are accepting, receiving, and resting upon Christ alone…” WCF 14.2

So yes, by the faith that justifies sinners, men do act and obey, but the principle acts of justifying faith are accepting, receiving and resting, which I believe Escondido wishes to distinguish from obedience. We should have no problem with that distinction; it’s a good one.

Let's take another conversion scenario that clearly bolsters Escondido's position. In those cases in which God regenerates infants, those infants are not merely regenerated without also sharing in all the benefits of Christ, including justification. Accordingly, lest justification need not be accompanied by faith, we must conclude that the seed of faith that is implanted in those regenerate infants is justifying faith. Indeed, that faith must (and will) be exercised during years of discretion, but nonetheless justifying faith is present. In all fairness, Escondido’s paradigm fits those situations much better, for how does a baby obey in conversion?! Again, there is a place for referring to obedience to the gospel call upon men’s lives in the realm of conversion (and even more so in the work of progressive sanctification), but it would be a monstrosity to suggest that a woman converted through the shame of adultery and an infant converted in the mother's womb are obeying when God grants them rest.

Another related item - Covenant Blessings and Obedience:

Mike Horton [MH] wrote “Law And Gospel,” an article that appeared in the October, 2006 issue of Tabletalk. In that article he wrote:

“The new covenant, like the promise to Adam after the fall, renewed in the
covenants with Abraham and David, is not like the Sinai covenant. The blessings of the new covenant do not depend on our obedience, but on God’s grace: He will put His Law within us, so that it will not only be an external command that condemns us but an inward longing of our heart; He will be our God and we will be His people – yet another one-sided promise on God’s part. Instead of always giving imperatives (like ‘Know the Lord'), in the new covenant people will know the Lord because He has revealed Himself as their Savior.”

I’d like to take a look at one part only within the larger context of what MH wrote. “The blessings of the new covenant do not depend on our obedience, but on God’s grace…”

In order to try to understand MH's meaning, we should be quick to acknowledge what he clearly affirms and in doing so not let anything he wrote contradict what must be considered bedrock for him.

MH in practice is not antinomian! He appreciates that faith without works is dead. Accordingly, he is not saying that all blessings of the new covenant can be received without good works being present in the life of the believer. Moreover, being a committed Calvinist he also should appreciate that good works are not the product of libertarian free will but rather a result of God working in his redeemed both to will and do of his good pleasure. Consequently, whatever MH’s point is, it cannot pivot upon the question of whether man needs grace to obey, or whether obedience will be present in those who receive blessings in the new covenant. He clearly affirms both, our need for grace and the resultant obedience that comes by grace. Moreover, certainly MH appreciates through scripturally informed experience that obedience begets blessings, and that this too is a principle that transcends testaments. In other words, MH must appreciate that proverbs living will generally be a means to good things bestowed (blessings if you will).

There are many discontinuities between the old and new covenant, yet notwithstanding there is no break in the principle that sovereign grace effects creaturely obedience, which in turn places us in the path of realized covenant blessings. In fact, the "willing and the doing" that God is pleased to grant is in-and-of-itself a covenant blessing! It is God who works in us both to will and to do. Sure, the blessings are more extraordinary under the newer economy but so will be the obedience! Can God under the newer economy be our God without our walking in his ways and obeying His imperatives? Neither covenant operated under a quid pro quo for our obedience is nothing other than what John Murray called the "reciprocal responses of faith.” Our obedience, which too is a grace, is necessary in order to receive many blessings that the covenant contemplates.

On the other hand, maybe MH means this:

When the apostle says in Ephesians 1:3 that we have been blessed with every spiritual blessings in Christ, I am struck afresh by the indicative, that these blessings are ours now - and that we are not dependent upon God's works of future providence in order to gain them. Our task is by grace to appreciate the full blown reality of these blessings and when we do, we too with Paul will praise God for them - even in spite of our circumstances. These blessings include our election unto holiness, the forgiveness of sins, the gift of the Holy Spirit, adoption as sons and the hope of glory. (I am grateful that Pastor Robert Letham so often gave thanks in his pastoral prayer for these blessings.) I would like to think that these are the blessings to which MH is referring that are not dependent upon obedience. The reason I am somewhat reluctant to read him this way is that all those blessings belonged to God’s elect under Moses! Yes, these blessings were theirs in much smaller measure, but nonetheless they were still there and they had nothing to do with obedience. Maybe MH is just comparing the physical blessings under Moses (that came through obedience) with the spiritual blessings under Christ (that are 100% ours without remainder through union with Christ). Maybe he is just not footnoting that today we have physical blessings under Christ (through faithful obedience), just like under Moses they had spiritual blessings (upon conversion). I remain perplexed over what the Escondido crowd is trying to say, but I couldn't be more clear on what Scripture says on these matters.

(In passing... Dr. Letham also kept another balance always before his congregation; although the accent may have fallen on the spiritual blessings we have through union with Christ, he always guarded against any inclination we might have toward Gnostic-dualism, placing before us the physical: incarnation, Supper and Christ's desire to heal the sick (just as "for instances"). We must not forget the physical blessings of the covenant. As he recently reminded me, “God created the heavens and the earth.”)

As for Sinai and the covenant of life:

Under Moses there could not have been an offer of everlasting life through obedience that was anything but disingenuous given that God’s people had past sins, concupiscence and Adam’s guilt imputed to them. That apostate Israel assumed they could have been received as righteous by law-works does not imply that the covenant under Moses was to have been understood as making such an hypothetical / conditional offer. That Paul by grace finally counted his pedigree as loss and wanted to be found in Christ for his righteousness does not suggest the terms of the covenant under Moses! In other words, Israel's error should not be read back into the terms of the Mosaic covenant. Accordingly, I must reject any paradigm (for these and other reasons) that would suggest that Sinai was a republication of the Covenant of Life. In addition, the notion that the Covenant of Life held out the prospect of an ontological change that contemplated a glorified state is beyond any good and necessary inference that can be drawn from Scripture alone, making the notion speculative at best. Finally, the notion of personal merit not only goes beyond such speculation, it also confounds the creator-creature distinction and the very terms of the covenant. That any creature under any economy, even the prelapsarian state, could merit anything before his creator is obviously false as I argue here, lest we make merit a vacuous term and imply (unwittingly in Escondido's case) that Adam had the metaphysical ability (autonomy) to act contrary to how he did, a philosophical surd. Unfortunately, not only is Escondido advancing all these sorts of views, they are are trying to pass them off as confessional and even essential to the gospel. In a large respect, their insistence exceeds their error.

Monday, July 06, 2009

A Common Error Among Calvinists - Rationalism At Its Worst


It is indeed true that Jesus died only for the elect and that all for which he died will be saved. Notwithstanding, it is not a matter of logical necessity that the Holy Spirit unites the elect to Christ.

As a five point Calvinist, I would argue that we can know from revelation that Universalism is false and that all who were chosen in Christ were purchased by Christ; and that the Holy Spirit will unite them and them only to Christ. And although it is true that the Triune God works in harmony, it is not a matter of logic that those for whom Christ died will be saved; yet it is true they will be saved.

First off, there is no universal principle that vicarious suffering and payment necessitates payment received. For instance, if I were to suffer and pay for something on behalf of someone I love yet require that the person willfully pick up the purchased possession, a refusal of one to do so would not obstruct justice. It is incumbent upon one to show why it is necessary that God apply redemption given that the reception of a purchase is not universally necessary for injustice not to obtain. (Again, it’s not a question of whether God determined to apply redemption to all the elect but rather whether not doing so would violate logic or justice.) 

It is indeed true that:
“If Jesus' death atoned for everyone's sins, then everyone would go to heaven.” P*
Notwithstanding, the Calvinistic meaning of atonement is the issue of debate and penal substitution does not imply the consequent. In other words, P* is not deducible by solely considering the judicial, vicarious sufferings of Christ as penal substitute. It’s a bit more complex than that, obviously.

Narrowly considered, the nature of the cross does not in and of itself necessitate that redemption must be applied. (Rather, redemption must be applied due to God’s determination, which was not constrained by logic or justice but rather purpose.) As well, although P* is true (according to Scripture), it is not placed within a very interesting polemic because the common argument does not involve an internal critique of the Arminian position and it begs too many crucial salvific questions regarding: divine intent within the Godhead as it pertains to redemption accomplished and applied; the extent of the fall as it pertains to man's will; and the metaphysics of the will with respect to pure contingency and necessity.

The polemic attributed to Owen (I do not say it is Owen's) does not attack Arminianism because it begs crucial questions. For instance, if irresistible grace was not necessary for faith to be implanted, then P* could be false. If God did not desire to work in harmony with respect to election, redemption and application, then that premise could be false. If God does not by grace cause people to persevere in their sanctification (which too was purchased at the cross), then that premise could be false.

In the final analyses: (1) God’s revelation pertaining to the fullness of grace and the unity of the Godhead as it pertains to the divine redemptive intention is what informs us of the truth or falsity of P*. It's not enough simply to assert P*. (2) Given the truth of P* (in light of all revelation), the often alleged logical necessity of the consequent in P* needs to be demonstrated as a part-and-parcel with the concept of penal substitution.

Now let me really put the cookies on the table. If penal substitution alone requires that another be set free, then why the need for existential union with the substitute in order for sinners to be forgiven? Why aren't the elect free from condemnation apart from being baptized into Christ - i.e. while outside Christ, if substitution alone requires justification? Accordingly, Owenites must at least argue that substitution logically requires that God regenerate sinners, a tall order to prove indeed from the doctrine of substitution.
I can't die for a serial killer and justice be served. In the like manner, substitution alone is not enough for redemption otherwise I would have been set free while unconverted, a clear violation of Ephesians 2. Regarding the serial killer example I would somehow have to be united to the killer (or rather he to me) in perfect union if we are to glean anything from Scripture in this regard. No doubt, the Trinity's harmonious intention as revealed in Scripture results in the gracious particular application of redemption. Moreover, for the intention of the substitution not to become effectual is of course impossible because limited atonement is biblical but that's the issue of debate and, therefore, may not be assumed in the definition of substitutionary atonement! We must deal with Arminians with intellectual honestly. What must be grasped is that the substitutionary death of Christ and particular redemption are not the same thing! The latter has to do with intention or design of the substitionary death and how it relates to redemption-applied i.e. with a view toward efficacy and application, which being the issue of debate may not be infused into the definition of substitution.

Lastly, that the Holy Spirit converts all that Jesus died for speaks to the harmonious plan of redemption as revealed in Scripture but says nothing about some supposed double jeopardy that would have occurred had Christ died for men who remained unconverted men. Double jeopardy occurs when the same man pays twice for the same sin and it would occur if one in existential union with Christ went to hell. One cannot pay for his sins once the sacrifice for his sins is his made his own or appropriated, which occurs upon union and not at the time of propitiation! Accordingly, baptism into Christ's work is what makes Christ's sacrifice the sinner's sacrifice. Consequently, it's only upon existential union with Christ that there is no condemnation. And it is only upon union that double jeopardy could come into view.

Ron

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Tuesday, April 07, 2009

To Whom Did Mary Give Birth & Who Died Upon The Cross?


I won’t bother to get into the historical debate that surrounds these two topics but a word or two will be offered as “food for thought” regarding Mary giving birth to God the Son and a divine person dying upon the cross.

Did Mary give birth to a divine person, or just a human nature? If birth implies the origin of someone new, then only humanity came forth in the virgin birth since the person born of the virgin always existed. However, Mary carried a person (and not just an embodied nature) in her womb, and after her water broke, she then labored to bring forth the person she had carried. In common parlance we call that giving birth. Since a divine person was born, we must let that reality inform our understanding of birth (rather then let our understanding of birth redefine what occurred in that manger in Bethlehem). Birth need not precede the origin of a new person, precisely because the eternal Son of God, a person, was born of a virgin. It's really quite easy when we start with Scripture. Question 37 of the Westminster Shorter Catechism puts it this way, or rather it simply assumes the point when making another:
“How did Christ, being the Son of God, become man? Answer: Christ the Son of God
became man, by taking to himself a true body, and a reasonable soul, being
conceived by the power of the Holy Ghost in the womb of the virgin Mary, of her
substance, and born of her, yet without sin.” (emphasis mine)
Who was born of of the virgin Mary is the question we should be asking, not what was born. Sure, Jesus became man by taking to himself body and soul but it was Christ who was born of Mary. Accordingly, Mary giving birth to her Savior-son is not ground for Protestant objection. Aside from that, no unbiblical Marian dogma can be rationally inferred from such teaching.

Now for the 2nd condundrum. Did God the Son die on the cross, or just his humanity? A divine person took upon a human body and soul in the incarnation. That body is now glorified but before that, it lay in the grave – dead, awaiting resurrection life. Accordingly, a divine person's body lay in the grave. The body died in the death of a person, which is what happens when any person dies. Yet does the soul ever die, whether divine or human? We are not annihilationists after all. Are things getting a bit clearer? What's the problem that a divine person died? When we die our bodies will lie in the grave but the soul will remain operative in the intermediate state. So then, how does the death of the Second Person impinge upon the doctrine of the Trinity? Was the death of the body sufficient to do away with Jesus’ sovereign rule over the universe anymore than his being born of a woman? Is death even sufficient to stop the Rich Man (from Luke 16) from trying to correct God? One would have to ask how the Lord managed prior to the incarnation if we may not say that the Second Person of the Trinity, at least in some sense, died upon the cross and his body lay in the grave.
The same person who was born, died - and is now risen and ascended to God's right hand.
Happy Easter!

Ron

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