Monday, August 31, 2009

Birch on Calvinist Hermeneutics

The suggestion was made to me over at Triablogue that I somehow have to submit my moral intuitions to Scripture, and that the way to really be in submission to biblical authority is to come with no presuppositions whatsoever.

But does anyone really do that? Does anyone come to Scripture without some kind of hermeneutical center? Somehow, there is something terribly wrong with coming to the Bible with an initial set of perspectives as to what we should expect to find in Scripture. I admit that I come to Scripture with a hermeneutical center grounded in the love of God. As such, interpretations that conflict with that hermeneutical center, for me, carry a higher burden of proof than those that don't.

Now, of course, the paradigm can shift. I happen to have trouble imagining making that paradigm shift myself, but what I can imagine and what is possible are two different things.

But do Calvinists have a hermeneutical center? Are they more truly submissive to Scripture? Despite their moralizing about this, I doubt it. And apparently Calvinist Silva, quoted here by Birch, says that sovereignty is the underlying principle behind all Calvinist biblical interpretation.

I wish people who debate theology would study the philosophy of science. I think biblical positivism is as much a pretense in theology as logical positivism was in the philosophy of science.

Scripture doesn't speak to us in a vacuum, nor should it.

42 comments:

Bjørn Are said...

BTW, Victor, did you notice my recent comment to your blog for Tuesday, January 31, 2006?

Daniel Gracely said...

Hi Victor,

Although I believe that Calvinists, like all theologians, study the Bible with presuppositions already in hand and of their own forming, I do not think the Calvinist system makes it possible for Calvinists to admit this. For if a Calvinist were to assert that HE created those presuppositions, then that would (for him) mean that he had DONE something (unaidingly) predicative (my term, not the Calvinist’s), and therefore something of works. And from his perspective that would mean that he took glory away from God.

At least, that would be one part of the Calvinist’s confession. For (as I have noted in my book by assuming extension by example) all forth-right statements which Calvinists make about “God,” “man,”, “good,” and “evil,” including all other key words/terms, are refuted in their own Calvinist discourses, which leads them finally to inconclusive definitions (though of course Calvinists claim them concluded). By “forth-right statements” I mean e.g., the Calvinist’s invocation of terms like “man’s belief,” a term only properly understood if each of that term’s constituent words are defined according to their normal historical meaning apart from special pleading definitions. This is what I mean, when I say that the Calvinist refutes his position. For on the one hand (e.g., re: salvation) he describes ANY predication as “works,” but then invokes the opposite concept of “man’s belief,” a concept which obviously requires contentually unaided human predication and proprietorship (of that predication) for that term to have any meaning at all, as historically defined. Of course, by "historically defined" I assume univocal definition shared by God and man. The Calvinist does not assume this, and that is what the real debate is about.

In a word, then, Calvinism is deconstructionism. Calvinist theology only SOUNDS biblical because of the psychological association that leads hearers toward a reaction of acceptance of Christian-sounding words. And since Calvinism can, like any theology or philosophy, maintain consistency of definitions, many hearers have been tricked into accepting Calvinism because of assuming that consistency of argument alone proves what is true. And, I think, because Calvinism also impresses with its intellectual tradition.

The problem for the Calvinist, as I see it, is that the terms “God” and “man” have been conflated in definition to mean ONE MIND manifesting itself. This is why I believe that Calvinism is merely pantheism under the guise of Christian lingo. For under Calvinism “man’s belief” (as you and I would understand it) is neither belief nor even something proprietary of man, though, of course, the terms “man”, “man’s belief”, etc. are kept in play by the Calvinist to give an otherwise appearance. I do not say Calvinists are witting of this error, i.e., of having changed the meaning of all key words (arguably, ALL words) in the apologetic debate. But of course to so treat language such that, e.g., verbs change meaning depending upon the subject, is to overthrow language itself. In fact, it is this denial of lingual, univocal equivalence between God and man that has allowed for the five points of Calvinism. I have found it helpful to remind myself from time to time that the Calvinist and I do not share the same meaning of words in this discourse, though of course it seems that we do because the words SOUND the same.

At any rate, as long as both they and we (you and I and others like us) are committed to our respective a priori assumptions, there can never be unity. Nor under these circumstances ought there to be. For God never urges unity at the expense of truth. Just as a reminder, then—Let you and I bear always in mind that those who have committed themselves to philosophical irrationalism will believe that what is irrational is common sense. And the more they are committed to irrationalism, the more astonishment they will feel toward any expression of common sense argument in this debate.

Edward T. Babinski said...

Vic, You appear stuck to the tar baby of Calvinism. They will continue claiming that you are a clipped bird, a liberal, or a host of other names they choose to call you. They will also insist that they have already won any debates, that there is no debate, presuppositionally speaking. Fun group, like any group that has all the answers. C. S. Lewis had more questions than Calvin apparently, and this really bugs them, from their inerrant Bible that only they inerrantly understand, to the thought that people holding less narrow theological views might wind up in heaven, universalists, mystics, agnostics, perhaps even "soft" atheists.

Mike Darus said...

Victor,
You have received good advice from a poor source. Of course, our moral intuitions should bow to Scripture. Special Revelation (Scripture) is much more reliable than Natural Revelation (intuition), especially on questions relating to the mechanics of sovereignty and free will. But you have received your good advice from a group that poorly represent some worthy ideas. It is too easy to dismiss their suggestion because they disqualify themselves as reliable sources of information by their attitude and the violence they do to good theology.

Scripture discusses both free will and sovereignty. It affirms both without providing a solution to the apparent paradox. The danger is to affirm one and deny the other. To do so is to elevate philosophy over revelation. This may help resolve the moral tension but at the cost of the truth.

arminianperspectives said...

Scripture discusses both free will and sovereignty. It affirms both without providing a solution to the apparent paradox.

To claim this as a paradox assumes the Calvinist definition of sovereignty (sovereignty = exhaustive determinism). Arminians like me and probably Victor do not hold to such a strange definition of sovereignty, nor do we see the Bible teaching exhaustive determinism. So from our side, it makes perfect sense that the Bible assumes both, and that there is no paradox (which is really a contradiction if you are trying to affirm both exhaustive determinism and libertarian free will), since there is nothing contradictory about God being sovereign (doing as He pleases) and sovereignly deciding to endow His creatures with a measure of free will.

God Bless,
Ben

Gordon Knight said...

I don't understand how someone can consistently claim to value scripture over any human judgement. After all, it is a human judgement to treat scripture as an authority, and also a human judgement to decide what "authority" means in this case.

Anonymous said...

Puting special revelation before general revelation is a game anyone can play. I wonder if those who accept the idea apply it to other religions. The view entails that one can't use one's unreliable moral intuitions to reject other religions on the grounds of committing moral atrocities. "Sure, the Aztecs sacrificed babies on the alter, and that's repulsive to my moral sensibilities. But that's neither here nor there."

Putting special revelation before ones fundamental intuitions seems subject to the Great Pumpkin Objection to Reformed Epistemology.

Robert said...

Gordon wrote:

“I don't understand how someone can consistently claim to value scripture over any human judgement. After all, it is a human judgement to treat scripture as an authority, and also a human judgement to decide what "authority" means in this case.”

I think you are confusing two issues here. One issue is (A) the way the Christian chooses to look at scripture (assuming further that it is properly interpreted) and the authority of scripture. The other issue is (B) the fact that God designed us with the capacity to choose to make our own judgments and we cannot escape making our own judgments when we are evaluating and doing our own intentional actions.

It seems to me that a genuine Christian believes that the scripture properly interpreted presents us with revelation from God. So say that the revelation presents (X) to be the case and our present judgment is suggesting that (not-X) is the case. Given this choice, we believe that we should take (X) to be true and that therefore there must be something wrong with our judgment of (not-X). We see ourselves as being fallible while God is not.

Now you are correct that treating scripture this way, is itself a choice/judgment (“it is a human judgement to treat scripture as an authority”). We have this capacity to think for ourselves and make our own decisions because we are created in the image of God. God has created us to be persons who reason about things and make our choices for reasons. It is also a choice/judgment that we make that we “decide what "authority" means in this case.”

Believers consistently make these two choices (1) to choose to treat scripture as having higher authority than our own private judgments; and (2) to choose to submit our reasoning to scripture (if scripture says one thing and our reasoning another, we believe that we ought to give higher authority to scripture). We also see it as a faith issue. God reveals Himself in his Word and we ought to choose to trust Him and His word.

You stated ““I don't understand how someone can consistently claim to value scripture over any human judgement.” It is easy to understand this mentality if you believe that we choose according to what is important to us (the Christian believes that God’s revelation is important and that it is important to trust Him and His Word). The Christian believes that due to its nature (i.e. as being a revelation from God)scripture is to be trusted and part of that trust is demonstrated in choosing what scripture reveals over what our individual private judgments may say. To see this, take the converse, if faced with scripture saying (X) and your own individual private judgment saying (not-X), if you choose to trust in your own judgment or you choose to put your own judgment above scripture in authority, what kind of faith is that? An important Christian value is that if the bible says one thing (again properly interpreted) and circumstances or others or whatever other authority says another, we choose to trust in God’s word more than these other authorities. It is a choice that we make? Yes. It is a choice that we should make? Depends upon what is important to you. Finally, regarding authorities (scripture, our own judgment, the judgment and testimony of others, personal experience, our senses, etc.) we all have them, we just choose to weight them differently. We all have authorities, the issue becomes in what authorities do we place our trust?

Robert

Mike Darus said...

Ben,
I think that both exhaustive determinism and libertarian free will are mistakes. I don't think Scripture teaches either one. Scripture does teach about soveriegn decrees that God makes, but only for specific categories, not for everything. Scripture also affirms that people can exercise their wills to make choices but it does not affirm it is a free choice without influence or limitations.

Mike Darus said...

Ben,

It does not need to be a paradox. Kant suggests it is an antinomy.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antinomy

Robert said...

Hello Daniel,

You wrote:

“In a word, then, Calvinism is deconstructionism. Calvinist theology only SOUNDS biblical because of the psychological association that leads hearers toward a reaction of acceptance of Christian-sounding words.”

This is why I have been noticing lately that calvinism reminds me of non-Christian cults. They use the same words (like the sovereignty of God, free will of man, human responsibility, free agency, foreknowledge, etc.) that other Christians use, but the meaning they pour into the words is very different. Take foreknowledge for example. The common and ordinary understanding of the term with non-Calvinists is the belief that God foreknows all future events. The calvinist comes along, and the word no longer means simply foreknowing future events, it means that God knows a future event will occur because he predetermined for it to occur (so determinism is smuggled into the term foreknowledge).


“The problem for the Calvinist, as I see it, is that the terms “God” and “man” have been conflated in definition to mean ONE MIND manifesting itself. This is why I believe that Calvinism is merely pantheism under the guise of Christian lingo. For under Calvinism “man’s belief” (as you and I would understand it) is neither belief nor even something proprietary of man, though, of course, the terms “man”, “man’s belief”, etc. are kept in play by the Calvinist to give an otherwise appearance.”

Lately another analogy that seems to portray calvinism is that since they believe that God directly and totally and continually controls the will of each person, God acts through creation like a finger moving through a finger puppet. Calvinism thus conflates God’s causation and secondary causation so that there is only one person acting freely (God) and all other beings are having their wills directly and completely and continuously controlled by God. So Daniel you are right they use words like “God” and “man” and “man’s will” and it sounds like orthodox Christianity. But again a being whose will is directly and completely and continuously controlled by another person is not a man made in the image of God with his own mind and thoughts, rather he is merely an instrument (the finger puppet) through which the finger (God) moves.

“Let you and I bear always in mind that those who have committed themselves to philosophical irrationalism will believe that what is irrational is common sense. And the more they are committed to irrationalism, the more astonishment they will feel toward any expression of common sense argument in this debate.”

Daniel you got this one right. The necessatarians believe their system is derived from the bible when in fact others see their system and their “interpretations” and conclude that they go against the bible and common sense all the time. And they are convinced that they have got it right and the whole rest of the church (which is an incredibly large majority of persons compared to the minority report of calvinism) has got it wrong. Most Christians hear a child singing “Jesus loves me this I know for the bible tells me so . . .” and believe that the child is affirming orthodox Christianity. Affirming what Christians have always believed. But the necessatarian hears the child and attacks the child as representing false theology.

Robert

arminianperspectives said...

Mike,

You wrote,

Scripture does teach about soveriegn decrees that God makes, but only for specific categories, not for everything.

This would need some explaining before I could comment.

Scripture also affirms that people can exercise their wills to make choices but it does not affirm it is a free choice without influence or limitations.

I wasn't advocating free choice without influence or limitation. Notice I said a "measure of free will".

It does not need to be a paradox. Kant suggests it is an antinomy.

Some use antinomy simply as a means of making an obvious contradiction seem less objectionable. "A" and "not A" is a contradiction. It is not paradox or antinomy. Exhaustive determinism and free will (in a libertarian sense, however limited) is incompatible and cannot therefore be properly called paradox or antinomy.

God Bless,
Ben

Robert said...

Hello Mike,

“I think that both exhaustive determinism and libertarian free will are mistakes.”

I would suggest that exhaustive determinism is the mistake, while LFW is clearly present throughout scripture.

“I don't think Scripture teaches either one.”

I think you are half right! :-)

“Scripture does teach about soveriegn decrees that God makes, but only for specific categories, not for everything.”

That is not how I would define sovereignty. The bible reveals that God does as He pleases in all situations. Thus sovereignty means that He does as He pleases in all situations. You can affirm sovereignty whether you believe everything is predetermined or that some events are predetermined (the mistake to avoid, the mistake made by calvinists is to equate sovereignty with exhaustive determinism).

Now you present your view of the will and make comments indicating how you take LFW to be:

“Scripture also affirms that people can exercise their wills to make choices but it does not affirm it is a free choice without influence or limitations.”

“Scripture also affirms that people can exercise their wills to make choices” is a statement that everybody agrees with. Everybody believes that we exercise our wills and MAKE CHOICES.

“but it does not affirm it is a free choice without influence or limitations” is how you view LFW. But you are mistaken about LFW. I hold to LFW and I believe that we definitely have limitations. Some mistakenly equate LFW with having omnipotence. The belief that if we have LFW then we can do whatever we want any time we want to.

If a husband is at home and wants to watch the big football game but instead his wife promises their daughter that she can watch “Little Mermaids” on their one and only TV, guess what? He doesn’t get to do what he wanted and his choices concerning TV are not only limited but eliminated. And regarding limitations of the will of man, ask Nebuchadnezzar about that when God felt he was getting too arrogant and made him like an animal eating grass! What happened to the notion that free will means doing whatever you want whenever you want to do it with no influences curtailing you whatsoever? So LFW does not mean we are omnipotent beings doing whatever we want and no one (even God) can infringe on us or our choices. LFW also does not mean that our choices are completely independent of others or the influences of others (including God). I am not even going to establish that as it is so obviously true.

So LFW does not mean we are omnipotent in our wills, does not mean that we make choices and decisions without any influences whatsoever. So what does it mean then? My perusal of advocates of LFW shows there is one common denominator in all advocates of LFW: we all believe that at least sometimes we have and make choices. Notice I said HAVE and make choices. In a completely predetermined world where God decreed everything, decided beforehand how every detail would go, YOU WOULD NEVER EVER HAVE A CHOICE. You would make choices, the very choices that God decided beforehand that you would make. But you would ***never have*** a choice. You couldn’t choose this or that (if God predetermined that you choose this, then only this is what you would and could choose; if God predetermined that you choose that, then only that is what you would and could choose). So LFW means we sometimes have choices.

Mike do you believe that we ever HAVE A CHOICE?

Or do you believe that God predetermines every choice that we will make?

Robert

Mike Darus said...

Ben,
An antinomy allows for an apparent contradiction. This is different from an actual contradiction. You only need to affirm that God is acting and people are acting. Neither God nor the people are puppets. If you over-emphasize sovereignty, you get people-puppets. It is less intuitive, but if you over-emphasise free will, then the people are pulling God's strings. A useful idea is the "concursive" interaction between man and God. It also lends itself to a relationship between God and man.

Mike Darus said...

Robert,
Regarding your last comment -- I don't call myself a Calvinist because I think the term is too vague and has been demonized by some. I also have severe reservations about L and I in TULIP (also the T, U, and P require a bit of explanation). As I understand it, the minority Calvinist position is exhaustive determinism. The majority Calvinist position is election of those who are saved. Double predestination is a "hyper" Calvinist position. It is easy to dismiss the whole discussion with an attack on the straw-man hyper-calvinstic position of supralapsarian, double predestination, exhaustive determinism (mouthful).

To your question:

Our most significant choice is one that requires such significant help from the Holy Spirit, it can be difficult to know who is most responsible for the choice.

Robert said...

Hello Mike,

You wrote:

“Neither God nor the people are puppets. If you over-emphasize sovereignty, you get people-puppets.”

So Mike would you agree that exhaustive determinism using your language is “overemphasizing sovereignty”?

Ben and my point is that exhaustive determinism and libertarian free will could not simultaneously exist, that **would** be an actual contradiction . You said earlier that exhaustive determinism was a mistake.

Mike I gave you what I think is the biblical definition of God’s sovereignty (i.e. He does as He pleases in all situations). Mike would you agree or disagree with my suggested definition of God’s sovereignty? And if you disagree, why?

“It is less intuitive, but if you over-emphasise free will, then the people are pulling God's strings.”

In my earlier post I said that LFW means that we sometimes have choices. I intentionally put the word sometimes, because in fact our choices can be limited and God can also intervene in such a way that we don’t have a choice with respect to some action. It is true that God sometimes acts directly on the human will when He pleases to do so, but this is the exception not the rule. It is similar to how God set up the laws of nature. Ordinarily nature goes a certain way, but God can do miracles where things don’t go as they ordinarily go (likewise ordinarily the law of nature regarding our wills is that we have and make our own choices, but God acting on our will and directly controlling it would be the exception and like a miracle in that God could do it if He pleases but it is the exception not the rule).

I also think you are mistaken in this notion that overemphasizing free will could lead to humans pulling God’s strings. **That** is not possible as God is always sovereign and does as He pleases. He is never ever controlled by us. And we need to remember that God’s sovereignty presupposes that he has free will (he could not do as He pleases unless He freely chooses and has choices about what he will do). If you eliminate LFW then you also eliminate God’s sovereignty (if he does not have free will, but has to do what he does then His actions are necessitated and if His actions are necessitated then He does not do as He pleases in any situation).

Robert

aletheist said...

Our most significant choice is one that requires such significant help from the Holy Spirit, it can be difficult to know who is most responsible for the choice.

In the case of that particular choice, I do not think that it is "difficult to know who is most responsible" at all. Calvinists, Arminians, Lutherans, and the rest should be able to agree on this: "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith--and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God--not by works, so that no one can boast." (Ephesians 2:8-9)

Victor Reppert said...

Submitting intuitions to special revelation isn't a bad idea in perhaps even numerous cases, especially where the text settles the question cleanly. If I am tempted to commit adultery, and start wondering why God thinks there's something wrong with it, then the message is addressed with sufficient straightforwardness in Scripture that I either have to bring my entire faith into question or accept the idea that I had better not proceed with the adultery.

However, the the kind of case we are discussing, you've got aspects of the biblical witness that look like they help the Calvinist, you have aspects of it that look, at first glance, as if they undercut the Calvinist, you have exegeses of the relevant passages that make the case on both sides. Then you have to unpack the "intutions" somewhat. Can they be traced back to Scripture?

And then you have to ask what your hermeneutical center is when it comes to dealing with Scripture. The Bible is a big book, how do you decide how to interpret it and apply it. You can't tell me that people for whom God's love is hermeneutically central and those who think God's sovereignty is hermeneutically central can "just exegete" and come to the same conclusions.

A belief in Scripture as special revelation means that you should be open to the possibility of submitting your intuitions to a clear biblical message. However, even if Scripture is inerrant, exegetes are not. However, whether you go against your intuitions or not has to be decided on a case-by-case basis.

Mike Darus said...

Victor,
Exegetes will tend to disagree on dozens of insignificant details but agree on hundreds of important points. Theologians walk a more precarious path. Calvin and Arminius were both great exegetes. Their students were theologians looking to build and defend a system. They scattered left and right leaving truth in the middle.

Robert said...

Hello Mike,[response part 1]

“Regarding your last comment -- I don't call myself a Calvinist because I think the term is too vague and has been demonized by some.”

I am not really into labels myself though others love to label me to try to pigeonhole me.

“I also have severe reservations about L and I in TULIP (also the T, U, and P require a bit of explanation).”

I also have severe reservations about the elements of TULIP! :-)

“As I understand it, the minority Calvinist position is exhaustive determinism.”

I believe that you are mistaken here. Calvin, Luther, Jonathan Edwards, John Piper, R. C. Sproul, John MacArthur, etc. who represent the majority position of calvinists all held to exhaustive determinism.

“The majority Calvinist position is election of those who are saved.”

Again all Calvinists hold to unconditional election, and the majority of those hold to exhaustive determinism.

“Double predestination is a "hyper" Calvinist position.”

I disagree with this as double predestination is again the majority position among calvinists. Lutherans do not hold to double predestination but calvinists do. Mike you may be mistaking the Lutheran and Calvinist positions.

“It is easy to dismiss the whole discussion with an attack on the straw-man hyper-calvinstic position of supralapsarian, double predestination, exhaustive determinism (mouthful).”

I don’t think the supralapsarian, double predestination, exhaustive determinism view is hypercalvinism or a straw man. I think it is the strongest and most consistent necessatarian position (with the key being that they hold to exhaustive determinism which if true would result in all of these other things).

Robert

Robert said...

Hello Mike,[response part 2]

“To your question:

Our most significant choice is one that requires such significant help from the Holy Spirit, it can be difficult to know who is most responsible for the choice.”

I asked you the general question of whether or not you believe that we ever have choices? You are now focusing on one very specific choice, the choice to trust in Christ for salvation or not.

I agree with you that this choice “requires such significant help from the Holy Spirit”. In fact I would say that without the work of the Spirit no one can come to Christ and make the choice to trust Him for salvation. I believe that is what Jesus was referring to in John 6:44 (no one comes to Me unless the Father draws him). This verse wipes out the Pelagian and semi-Pelagian view.

I believe that this work of the Spirit is absolutely necessary for someone to get saved. I believe this because the bible teaches this and my own experience confirms this. I do a lot of evangelism in prisons, with some very hardened people. I have seen how the Spirit reveals Christ to them, reveals the scripture to them, shows them their own sinfulness, shows them their need for a Savior, shows them God’s plan of salvation, etc. etc. The individual must see these things and can only see these things if the Spirit reveals them to the individual. And the Spirit is sovereign as well sometimes revealing these things to a bunch of people at once sometimes to only a few. Non-Calvinists call this the prevenient grace of God because it comes before salvation and enables but does not necessitate the choice to trust in Christ. I have seen some who had this work of the Spirit for months or years who then begged God to save them. I have seen some who have had the work of the Spirit and they understand all sorts of things about the Christian faith but they are saying No. I have seen some who had the Spirit work on them at one meeting and they got saved at that meeting.

An analogy may be helpful to make my point that the work of the Spirit enables but does not necessitate faith.

Imagine two immigrant parents who come to this country with nothing. But they work hard and sacrifice and do what they need to do to establish a life in this country. All the while they put aside some of their hard earned money to save for the future, specifically so their children can go to college if they choose to do so (that is their plan). So they do this for years and years. Then they have a son and a time comes when he must choose to go to college or not (say he has no scholarship and has not earned money himself). The work of his parents enables him to go to college if he chooses to do so. He can choose to go or choose not to go, that is his choice. But it must be carefully seen that he would not even be in that position to make that choice unless his parents had done the work to enable him to be in the place to make that choice. If he makes the choice to go to college who gets the credit for his being able to do so? The parents. If he chooses to reject that opportunity, have the parents failed in their plan? No. If he chooses not to go he has only himself to hold responsible not the parents. The parents successfully completed their plan, they did the work that was necessary.

In the same way, God has accomplished his plan. He has provided Christ as an atonement for the world. The Holy Spirit then does His work in leading people to the place where they can choose to trust in Christ for salvation. I have seen this all first hand and know it to be true. Does the person enabled by the Spirit have a choice? Yes, the choice is to trust in Christ or to reject Him. God does not force this choice nor does he necessitate this choice. And people never arrive at the place where they have this choice unless the Spirit has done significant work in their lives.

Robert

Robert said...

Hello Victor, [part 1]

“Submitting intuitions to special revelation isn't a bad idea in perhaps even numerous cases, especially where the text settles the question cleanly.”

The texts **are** clear when it comes to God’s plan of salvation. How much clearer can they be (e.g. what must John 3:16 say to be any more clear?)? He desires the salvation of all, he provides Christ as an atonement for all. I know that Catholics, Eastern Orthodox and Protestants disagree in certain areas, but there is no disagreement that God desires the salvation of all, he provides Christ as an atonement for all. It is only the calvinists who disagree with these things. And I know that you have seen their strained and completely unconvincing eisegetical attempts to get around the clear texts.


“However, the the kind of case we are discussing, you've got aspects of the biblical witness that look like they help the Calvinist, you have aspects of it that look, at first glance, as if they undercut the Calvinist, you have exegeses of the relevant passages that make the case on both sides. Then you have to unpack the "intutions" somewhat. Can they be traced back to Scripture?”

I don’t see “aspects of the biblical witness that look like they help the Calvinist. No one ever “saw” calvinism for the first four hundred years of church history. It was only when Augustine came and injected some necessatarian ideas that anyone “saw” calvinism. And if you want to consider their proof texts, they are very few and easily interpreted in a non-calvinistic way.

Regarding tracing our intuitions back to scripture. Children understand this and sing “Jesus loves me this I know for the bible tells me so . . .” The verses about God’s love are crystal clear, until the water is muddied by Calvinistic premises being injected into the stream.

Robert

Mike Darus said...

Robert asked:
So Mike would you agree that exhaustive determinism using your language is “overemphasizing sovereignty”?

Mike says:
Yes, I agree. I think it is also a mistake to equate Calvinism with exhaustive determinism.

Robert asked:
Mike I gave you what I think is the biblical definition of God’s sovereignty (i.e. He does as He pleases in all situations). Mike would you agree or disagree with my suggested definition of God’s sovereignty? And if you disagree, why?

Mike responds:
That is a clean definition, impossible to disagree with from any theological perspective. However, it does not help with the discussion. It answers no question and takes no position.

Robert said:
In my earlier post I said that LFW means that we sometimes have choices. ... It is true that God sometimes acts directly on the human will when He pleases to do so, but this is the exception not the rule.

Mike responds:
I live this way too but I hope the Holy Spirit influences more than I realize. I hope the rule is that God is influencing me and the exception is that He is not. But so much of my life is made up the mundane, I fear you are right.

Robert said:
I also think you are mistaken in this notion that overemphasizing free will could lead to humans pulling God’s strings. **That** is not possible as God is always sovereign and does as He pleases.

Mike says:
I agree it is impossible. That is why the Arminian position is weak. It tends to put God's choice of the elect at the mercy of the will of man. Election and predestination are real terms in Scripture that deserve respect. By the way, Christian Today has a couple of articles this month commending the theological contributions of John Calvin.

Robert said...

Hello Victor [part 2]

“And then you have to ask what your hermeneutical center is when it comes to dealing with Scripture. The Bible is a big book, how do you decide how to interpret it and apply it.”

I don’t’ buy this “hermeneutical center” stuff. I say you interpret the bible according to proper interpretive methods. Interpret according to context, seek to find the author’s intention, interpret less clear texts in light of clearer texts, etc. If you make one idea the center you may end up overemphasizing it. Why can’t you interpret the whole and then develop your multiple “centers” from there? I don’t have a “center,” instead I believe based on what I take to be proper interpretation of scripture that God has a certain character (that is one center), that God has a plan of salvation that aims at the human race (another center), that God is sovereign (another center) meaning that He does as He pleases, etc.

“You can't tell me that people for whom God's love is hermeneutically central and those who think God's sovereignty is hermeneutically central can "just exegete" and come to the same conclusions.”

Those who “think God’s sovereignty is hermeneutically central” if you mean calvinists, define sovereignty as exhaustive determinism. This is again a mis-definition not reflective of what most Christians have always believed. If you define sovereignty as God does as he pleases, then Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Protestants all agree that God is sovereign. If you define it as God has exhaustively predetermined all events (the calvinist conception) then calvinists agree but everybody else (and that everybody else is a huge majority of the church throughout its history) disagrees.

“A belief in Scripture as special revelation means that you should be open to the possibility of submitting your intuitions to a clear biblical message.”

Agreed, and the biblical message regarding God’s plan of salvation is clear. It is only the necessatarians who muddy the waters with their exhaustive determinism which then wipes out the clear message and replaces it with a truncated man invented false system.

“However, even if Scripture is inerrant, exegetes are not.”

That is why as in the sciences we need “peer review”. Look at what others say, look at what other traditions say, look at what the church has taught throughout church history. If you conduct “peer review” in this way you end up with a vast majority across all theological traditions in Christianity in complete agreement and a small but vocal minority of calvinists in the corner. If everybody says something is the case, that does not mean they are necessarily correct, but you better know why everybody believes that. And you better have really good reasons for seeing that huge majority being mistaken. In the case of God’s plan of salvation most Christians believe that because it is clearly presented by the data when that data is properly interpreted. And the kids affirm it every time that they sing "Jesus loves me this I know for the bible tells me so . . ."

Robert

Robert said...

Hello Mike, [part 1]

“Yes, I agree. I think it is also a mistake to equate Calvinism with exhaustive determinism.”

I have offered examples of calvinists who espoused exhaustive determinism (including Luther, Calvin, Edwards, Piper, etc.). What is your evidence for suggesting that most calvinists do not hold to exhaustive determinism?

I gave my definition of sovereignty as it comes from is derived from the bible alone.

“That is a clean definition, impossible to disagree with from any theological perspective. However, it does not help with the discussion. It answers no question and takes no position.”

Actually if it a clean definition, and if no one disagrees with it, then why not accept it (actually those who promote determinism do not accept it)? It is those who equate exhaustive determinism that are causing the problems. So it does answer a very important question: why is there such disagreement between calvinists and non-calvinists regarding the sovereignty of God? Answer, the calvinists are operating from a false conception of the sovereignty of God. They have equated sovereignty with exhaustive determinism. Sovereignty has been equated with determinism and that is a big mistake.


“I live this way too but I hope the Holy Spirit influences more than I realize. I hope the rule is that God is influencing me and the exception is that He is not. But so much of my life is made up the mundane, I fear you are right.”

If we are believers the Spirit is constantly influencing and guiding us, the problem is that we don’t always obey. That is why Paul spoke of “grieving the Holy Sprit.” We do so when we sin. And I would add that God is influencing people all the time, but that is not the same as saying that he predetermined their actions and is necessitating those actions so that we never ever have a choice.

Robert

Robert said...

Hello Mike [part 2]

“I agree it is impossible. That is why the Arminian position is weak. It tends to put God's choice of the elect at the mercy of the will of man.”

People consider me to be Arminian and I never have God at the mercy of the will of man in any way. I think you misunderstand the Arminian view of election. If God is sovereign (and does as He pleases) and He develops the plan of salvation (which He reveals in scripture). If God decides that I am going to create a world where people will choose to sin and I will overcome that through the work of Christ. And I will choose those who choose to trust me as My people. In what way is God then at the “mercy of the will of man”? If he developed the plan and it comes out of His sovereign choices, and He wants to choose those who trust Him, how does that place God who developed the plan at the mercy of man? Those immigrant parents developed a plan and carried out the plan. There love and generosity and hard work provide the opportunity for their son to go to college (in what way are they are the mercy of the will of their son if it was THEIR PLAN??).

God did not have to save anyone, if he operated according to strict justice all of us would be hell bound (as his standards are perfect we fall short of his standards). We are extremely fortunate that God loves us enough to die on a cross for us. It is His plan and He chooses those who trust Him to be His people.

"Election and predestination are real terms in Scripture that deserve respect."

And how is it disrespectful to claim that God developed the plan of salvation and that He chooses those who trust Him to be His people? If he developed the plan and if He chooses those who trust Him to be His people how is disrespectful to affirm the truth? And regarding predestination as a term in scripture it only occurs a few times and never in reference to God deciding in eternity who will be saved and who will be lost. Rom. 8:29 we are predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son (which could be referring to our sanctification that we are to be Christ-like; or it could be referring to our glorification when our body will be conformed to the resurrection body that Jesus has). Or Eph. 1:4 “just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world THAT we SHOULD BE HOLY AND BLAMELESS BEFORE HIM IN LOVE”. what is predestined here? The way we are supposed to be. Eph. 1:5 “He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself”. Predestined to adoption THROUGH Jesus. The way to become children of God is through Christ. And who will those children be? Those like Abraham who trust Him.

Robert

Mike Darus said...

Robert said:
Or Eph. 1:4 “just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world THAT we SHOULD BE HOLY AND BLAMELESS BEFORE HIM IN LOVE”. what is predestined here? The way we are supposed to be.

Mike says:
The object of the verb, "chose" is "us." What was chosen here? Us.

It's OK to live with the tension.

philip m said...

Robert,

So does this mean God is not perfectly just?

Robert said...

"Mike says:
The object of the verb, "chose" is "us." What was chosen here? Us.

It's OK to live with the tension."

What tension? Paul speaks throughout Ephesians 1 of those who are "in Christ". How does one get "in Christ"? By faith alone. No faith = no getting "in Christ". We don't just wake up one day and we are "in Christ". No we only get "in Christ" if we have experienced the work of the Spirit in leading us to Christ and have chosen to trust in Him alone for salvation. The moment you do that you are "in Christ." Look at Romans, how does one become a Christian? By faith alone not works. Paul speaks alot about Abraham in his letters. Why? Because God's plan is to have people like Abraham as His people. If you want a good book about this plan of having people with faith as his people check out N. T. Wright's latest book on justification. Wright talks alot about this theme. And Wright is right on this. :-)

Robert

Robert said...

Philip M. wrote;

"So does this mean God is not perfectly just?"

Not sure what you mean here so I don't know what you are asking. Does WHAT mean God is not perfectly just? Clarify your question so that I can try to answer it. Thanks.

Robert

philip m said...

Robert,

My question was in reaction to this quote:

"God did not have to save anyone, if he operated according to strict justice all of us would be hell bound (as his standards are perfect we fall short of his standards)."

Is the implication of the fact that God does not exercise strict justice that God is not perfectly just?

This would seem to be a problem if the answer of why people still wind up in hell is because of God's justice.

Gordon Knight said...

Robert:

I suppose a person could do this. they could pick up a book and before looking at it just decide to treat it as authority. Then they can proceed and do whatever the book, properly interpreted, means.

But I hope no one does this. In a real life case, one chooses to treat the Bible as authoritative because it speaks to you, because even when it seems to conflict with one's intuitions (think of how crazy it is to love your enemies!) on reflection one can see that there is truth here.

So the reason for thinking the Bible is divinely inspired is itself based on those fallible human intuitions. One can say the holy spirit is involved here too, I think this happens in partnership with human judgement/will.

Now once one decides the Bible is inspired one will of course defer to it, but not in any absolutist way. When one reads a text that jars, one should try to see how it makes sense rather than quickly dismiss it. But the process is a partnership between human judgement and what the text says (or seems to say).

The ancient biblical interpreters, includng Augustine, each used their moral compass in interpreting scripture. If a passage seemed to be seriously morally objectionable, they interpreted it away!

Quoth Augustine:

"Whoever thinks he has understood the divine Scriptures or any part of them in such a way that his understanding does not build up the twin love of God and neighbor has not yet understood them at all"

One can say that love of God and neighbor are themselves biblical principles. But why privledge them over, e.g. the vicious genocides depicted in the Old Testement. One can give an interpretive story here, but my suspicion is that human intuition is guiding it, not "sola scriptura" which is a fiction.

arminianperspectives said...

Mike,

You wrote,

An antinomy allows for an apparent contradiction. This is different from an actual contradiction.

Of course an “apparent” contradiction would be different than an “actual” contradiction, but the problem comes when people start calling “actual” contradictions “antinomies” in order to rescue their view point from being falsified by logic. Do you see the problem? Wrongly appealing to antinomies can make any view point feasible, and renders debate and reason useless for determining truth and falsehood. What I am saying is that Calvinism is riddled with contradictions and Calvinists realize this. They then appeal to “antinomies” to get themselves out of the logical bind created by their contradictory theological system. This makes their system impossible to falsify since they can just wave off contradictions as “apparent” contradictions. I am not saying that is what you are doing, but that is the concern I have with appeal to antinomies, and many Calvinist have taken this route. Walls and Dongell have an enlightening chapter about this in their book Why I Am Not A Calvinist. I highly recommend it if you have not yet been able to read it.

You only need to affirm that God is acting and people are acting. Neither God nor the people are puppets.

Again, statements like this would need a lot of clarification before I could properly respond. Let me give you one example of how such language can be misleading. If I shoot someone, we could say that I was acting and the gun was acting. I was acting by controlling the gun, and the gun was acting by firing in accordance with my manipulation and the laws of cause and effect, etc. However, we wouldn’t say the gun was acting freely, nor would we say that the gun was responsible for killing a person and not the person who aimed and controlled the gun in such a way that the gun could not possibly resist doing what it was controlled to do. So just saying that God and people are both “acting” is not enough.

If you over-emphasize sovereignty, you get people-puppets. It is less intuitive, but if you over-emphasise free will, then the people are pulling God's strings.

I neither overemphasized sovereignty or free will and neither do Arminians. However, I fail to see how your mention of “antinomies” fits in with these comments about overemphasizing one aspect or another.

A useful idea is the "concursive" interaction between man and God. It also lends itself to a relationship between God and man.

Feel free to explain what you mean here so I can interact with it.

God Bless,
Ben

arminianperspectives said...

Mike says:
The object of the verb, "chose" is "us." What was chosen here? Us.

It's OK to live with the tension.


It is not OK to create "tension" where there is none and then tell people they should just live with it.

You are right that the object of the verb is us, but "in Christ" is just as important (if not more so). It tells us how the "us" was chosen. The "us" was chosen "in Christ" and not "to be in Christ". Only believers are "in Christ", and it is by being "in Christ" that we are elect (i.e. we share in His election and all other spiritual blessings that are found "in Him", cf. Eph. 1:3).

No tension to be found here, and no need to appeal to "antinomies", etc.

God Bless,
Ben

arminianperspectives said...

Mike,

You wrote,

It tends to put God's choice of the elect at the mercy of the will of man.

If it is God's sovereign and free decision to make election conditional on being "in Christ" and making faith the condition for being "in Christ", then how does that put God's choice at the mercy of man, since God is the One who chose to elect in that way?

God is not at the mercy of man's will, since He determined to make election conditional and not man. In fact, this is a major issue being discussed in Rom. 9 that Calvinists have misinterpreted terribly. The Jews were objecting that God did not have the right to make salvation conditional on faith in Christ, since this would violate what they perceived to be God's unconditional election of Israel as God's people (and in their mind would wrongly exclude unbelieving Jews from the covenantal promises given to Abraham concerning his descendents).

Paul makes it plain that God has the sovereign right to have mercy on whomever He wills (i.e. believers, whether Jews or Gentiles), and harden whoever He wills (i.e. unbelievers who reject Christ, whether Jews or Gentiles). This is partly what Paul means when He says, "It does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy". God can fulfill His promises of mercy on whatever basis He desires, and Paul has already made it abundantly clear that the promise is received by faith (Rom. 4), and will make it clear again in 9:30-33 and 11:16-32.

Remember, both Abraham and Isaac tried to force God's hand concerning how the promise of God should be fulfilled (Abraham asked God to fulfill His promise through Ishmael, and Isaac favored Esau and desired to bless him contrary to God's promise to favor and bless Jacob). This is Paul's point. God has the sovereign right to determine His covenant partners and has freely determined to make covenant with believers in Christ (i.e. He has freely determined [chosen] to make Christ the covenantal head and to save all those in union with Him, and through identification with Him, cf. Eph. 1:3, 4).

So when you say that free will puts God at the mercy of man, you have things essentially backwards and sound much more like the Jews who challenged Paul (whether they were real or imagined) in Rom. 9, then any Arminian. What right do you have to tell God that He cannot make election conditional on union with Christ and make union with Christ conditional on faith?

God Bless,
Ben

Mike Darus said...

arminianpersepectives (AP) asked:

then how does that put God's choice at the mercy of man, since God is the One who chose to elect in that way?

Mike answers:
If you apply the Arminian supposition that God chose to elect in that way, there is no problem. But if God's sovereign choice before the beginning of time depends on human action, then there is no sovereignty in the mind of the Clavinist.

AP asks:
It is not OK to create "tension" where there is none and then tell people they should just live with it.
Mike answers:
The tension is evident in Romans 9 and has persisted through the reformation to today. Neither Calvin nor I created the tension. I am amazed that you think you can explain it away.

AP asks:
What right do you have to tell God that He cannot make election conditional on union with Christ and make union with Christ conditional on faith?
Mike answers:
I think we are both trying to understand what God said about election and grace and faith.

Mike Darus said...

Ben said:
Only believers are "in Christ", and it is by being "in Christ" that we are elect (i.e. we share in His election and all other spiritual blessings that are found "in Him", cf. Eph. 1:3).

Mike asks:
I am confused by your statement. Are you saying we are elect WHEN we place our faith in Christ?

Robert said...

Hello Philip M.,

“Is the implication of the fact that God does not exercise strict justice that God is not perfectly just?”

No, my point was that if he had gone by strict justice alone, the bible teaches that the sin (which we all commit) merits hell. Fortunately for us, God is also merciful. God is perfectly just and He is also merciful. He allows us to sin against him but also developed a plan of salvation centered in Christ by which sinners can be forgiven and restored into proper relationship with him.

Robert

arminianperspectives said...

I am confused by your statement. Are you saying we are elect WHEN we place our faith in Christ?

Yes. I don't have time to address your other posts right now (though I hope to some time next week), but I will explain this a little more.

In the OT the people of Israel were elected based on their identification with Jacob/Israel. His election became their election and they were elect in him by their identification with him as his descendents. Jacob was the chosen covenant head and all those who identified with him shared in his election. Israel’s status as God’s chosen people was rooted in God’s choice of Jacob.

“And the Lord said to her, ‘Two nations are in your womb; and two peoples shall be separated from your body; and one people shall be stronger than the other; and the older shall serve the younger.” (Gen. 25:23)

Here we see the strong correlation between the covenant head, and those identified with him (in this case through natural descent). The people of Israel were not actually in Sarah’s womb, but it could be said that they were because the covenant head was in her womb. Likewise, only Christ could truly be chosen from before the foundation of the world, but it can be said that those who will come to be in union with Him were also chosen from before the foundation of the world because of their identity with the covenant head. So when believers are joined to Christ in faith His history becomes their history through identification and union with the chosen covenant head. His death becomes their death, His life becomes their life, His election becomes their election, His blood makes satisfaction for their sins (i.e. all spiritual blessings become ours through Christ who is our chosen covenant head, cf. Eph. 1:3-23). Especially note verses 22 and 23,

“And He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as Head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.”

So just as I can say “we won the Revolutionary war (as an American)”, though the war was won before I was born, so can believers say they were elect before the foundation of the world “in Christ”, though they did not exist at that time. Likewise, an alien who becomes an American citizen can also say “we won the revolutionary war” by becoming identified with America in his citizenship, though he was not born at that time, and wasn’t even always an American.

The only way to avoid this interpretation (which is solidly based on OT views of election), is to say that we were literally “in Christ” prior to creation, which would mean that the “elect” were not born under wrath since there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. It would also mean that the “elect” enjoy all the benefits of union with Christ (cf. Eph. 1:3) prior to putting faith in Christ. This is plainly contradicted by Eph. 2:1-3.

For a vivid picture of the election I am describing (that of becoming the elect upon faith association with the chosen covenant head), one need only read Rom. 11:16-24. Sorry if that explodes all the tension you seem to think is so important for some reason.

God Bless,
Ben

arminianperspectives said...

The tension is evident in Romans 9 and has persisted through the reformation to today. Neither Calvin nor I created the tension. I am amazed that you think you can explain it away.

The "tension" I was addressing was the tension you said was evident in Eph. 1, and not Rom. 9 (though I see no tension there either once a proper view of election is adopted). Furthermore, my contention is that "tension" should have never been created by Calvin and such, so it is wrong to say I am trying to "explain it away". That would presuppose that the tension is self-evident, the very thing that I deny.

God Bless,
Ben

Daniel Gracely said...

Hi Robert,

"This is why I have been noticing lately that calvinism reminds me of non-Christian cults. They use the same words (like the sovereignty of God, free will of man, human responsibility, free agency, foreknowledge, etc.) that other Christians use, but the meaning they pour into the words is very different."

I strongly agree. It dismays me to read the occasional comment from someone who says the Calvinist debate is non-essential. I think both Calvinists AND non-Calvinists who take this debate seriously regard the other as preaching another gospel. That others would not see the vastly different conclusions of Calvinism and non-Calvinism speaks volumes about the general failure in the Church to grasp doctrinal differences about even certain fundamental things (e.g., the nature of God).

Robert said...

Hello Daniel,

“I strongly agree. It dismays me to read the occasional comment from someone who says the Calvinist debate is non-essential.”

I used to think it was just an “in-house” debate among Christians. Until I looked at the larger picture, looking at church history and what other traditions within Christianity believe about God’s plan of salvation (i.e. that he desires for all to be saved and provides Jesus as an atonement for all). I started seeing that there is strong agreement on the universality of God’s plan among the vast majority of Christians (with the exception of calvinists, Jansenists, etc., small minorities in the history of the church). Then I considered the Calvinistic methodology of “proving” their system which is the same proof texting method used by cults (i.e. start with your a priori beliefs and then search the scripture to prove these beliefs, rather than the reverse of starting with interpretation of scripture and then developing your conclusions). So we have a small but vocal minority disagreeing with the vast majority and using cult-like interpretive methodologies. Sadly, with the fanatics among them we also find a cult-like mentality (“us” against the rest of the Christian Church).

“I think both Calvinists AND non-Calvinists who take this debate seriously regard the other as preaching another gospel.”

I wouldn’t agree with this. Many calvinists preach the same gospel message as other Christians. But some who are even more cult like than the rest end up preaching a “gospel” that equates calvinism with the gospel so that you are not saved unless you are a calvinist (**that** is heretical and a false gospel). But all calvinists get the plan of salvation wrong because of their belief in the false doctrine of unconditional election (if God preselected only some for salvation and others for damnation, then He definitely does not desire the salvation of all nor did he provide Christ for all).

“That others would not see the vastly different conclusions of Calvinism and non-Calvinism speaks volumes about the general failure in the Church to grasp doctrinal differences about even certain fundamental things (e.g., the nature of God).”

I think you are correct that there are some vastly different conclusions between calvinists and non-Calvinists. And differing about the nature of God is a big one. If their God does what they claim that he does, He does not fit the God who clearly reveals Himself in scripture. The God of their system is not loving, not good, not merciful, not seeking the salvation of all or providing Christ for all. He is quite sadistic and cruel, toying with most human persons, hating most human persons, desiring the salvation of a few and desiring the damnation of most, providing Christ only for the lucky few that got preselected.

In their system God becomes the ultimate racist as he hates most of the human race apart from anything that they do (he hates a person that he creates to be a “reprobate” and hates them simply because they belong to the class of “reprobates” and they belong to that class simply because he arbitrarily decided they would be in that class of persons).

Though the preselected few are selected to be “loved”, this love/hate of God then becomes totally arbitrary. He chooses to hate the “reprobates” from eternity, continues this hate in time and then eternally punishes this hated majority of the human race for being the persons and doing the actions that he predecided they would be and do.

Robert