Sunday, December 13, 2009

Wesley's argument that preaching is vain if Calvinism is true

John Wesley's classic statement of the objection goes like this:




But if this be so, then is all preaching vain? It is needless to them that are elected; for they, whether with preaching or without, will infallibly be saved. Therefore, the end of preaching -- to save should -- is void with regard to them; and it is useless to them that are not elected, for they cannot possibly be saved: They, whether with preaching or without, will infallibly be damned. The end of preaching is therefore void with regard to them likewise; so that in either case our preaching is vain, as you hearing is also vain.



The main thrust of my response to this objection is to argue that while Wesley's argument gets at something that seems to me correct, for in the sense that I don't think the counterfactual relationship between preaching and salvation quite works the same way as it might under Arminianism, but nevertheless the Calvinists have two motivations for evangelism intact: the obedience to command motivation, and the instrumental role motivation.



So I think I've actually done more to undercut Wesley's argument than I have to help it. Sorry, JW, gotta follow the argument where it leads.

22 comments:

Bilbo said...

Perhaps I can strengthen JW's argument.

The elected are granted faith upon hearing the Word of God. There doesn't seem to be any indication that particular words need be said. So one could quote a proverb, such as "spare the rod, spoil the child," and that should do the trick.

And it need not be in the hearer's language, either. We could say it in English, and the Swahili hearer should come to faith.

If we are skeptical that hearing such a proverb will "do the trick," and that something more is needed, such as specific words about Jesus, his death, and resurrection, and that they be said in the hearer's language, then aren't we really acknowledging that receiving faith is somehow dependent upon our understanding, our imagination, and our will, not just the fact that we are elected?

Anonymous said...

The Calvinist goes out boldly knowing that ALL GOD'S ELECT WILL COME, and so he preaches with confidence, not worrying that some may go to hell because he wasn't "on" that particular evening.

(Oh, and I'm ignoring Bilbo's odd little mystical, salvation by osmosis thing.)

Chad said...

I've tried to formalize this line of thinking. I wonder if there's anything to it

http://www.doxazotheos.com/?p=87

Bilbo said...

Anon: (Oh, and I'm ignoring Bilbo's odd little mystical, salvation by osmosis thing.)

You need to explain how hearing the word of God produces faith for God's elect. If not by "osmosis", then what?

philip m said...

The problem with this argument is that it applies to pain and suffering as well. After all, if no wrong will end up superfluous, why do I have to try to stop them? God is going to take care of it. There will be no gratuitous evils.

#John1453 said...

One would have to know how JW defined "preaching". Did he mean to cover all oral communication of the gospel? Or only preaching (monologue delivered orally to a group)?

That quote alone seems to imply all oral communication. Assuming that is so,there is still accuracy to what JW says, because nothing can frustrate the Calvinist will of God. If God has decreed someone's election, they will be save regardless of whether they hear any preaching at all. Perhaps they read a tract, or a Bible, or have a dream or vision (as some Moslems attest), etc.

Even if everyone stopped preaching, that would not be a frustration of God's decree, but a fulfilment of it because God decrees all things. Furthermore, stopping all preaching would not change the number of elect chosen by God.

Because God (under the Calvinist scheme) has also decreed whether certain people will believe in Calvinism and whether certain people are motivated to preach, it will never be the case that all Christians do not preach.

It also seems that JW was getting at the number of people saved, and the fact that that number will never change. There is no point in preaching in order to change that number, because the number and identity of the elect was decreed before creation.

regards
#John

Anonymous said...

If the future is as certain as the past, then the number saved will certainly never change.

Bilbo said...

I think you're all missing the point of JW's argument. In Romans 10, Paul tells us that faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the preaching of Christ. So even a Calvinist would agree that the way God's elect are saved is by means of preaching. But what is the point of preaching? What relevance does it have to bringing people to faith on a Calvinist perspective? If it's only by hearing the words, then it wouldn't really matter what language the preaching was in, or whether or not the person was even paying attention.

JW's point is that faith comes about by an interaction of hearing the preaching of Christ and the individual's understanding, imagination, emotions, and will. And it's difficult to see how to fit this into a Calvinist perspective.

steve said...

Bilbo,

I take it that you've never read a Reformed theologian. Why don't you acquaint yourself with the function of regeneration in this transaction.

Bilbo said...

Steve: "I take it that you've never read a Reformed theologian. Why don't you acquaint yourself with the function of regeneration in this transaction."

Why don't you just acquaint us with it yourself?

steve said...

In Calvinism, hearing the Word doesn't automatically engender faith. Only regeneration can instill a believing predisposition.

Bilbo said...

Steve: "In Calvinism, hearing the Word doesn't automatically engender faith. Only regeneration can instill a believing predisposition."

Does regeneration occur prior to, after, or concurrently with hearing the Word?

steve said...

Bilbo said...

"Does regeneration occur prior to, after, or concurrently with hearing the Word?"

i) There is no one-to-one correspondence between hearing the word and regeneration since both the elect and the reprobate can hear the word, but the reprobate remain unregenerate from start to finish.

ii) The sequence between hearing and regeneration is irrelevant. That's not the issue. The issue is the sequence between hearing and believing (i.e. regeneration as causally prior to saving faith).

Once again, what Reformed theologians have you ever read?

Anonymous said...

Bilbo,

Steve is explaining why I made the remark I did. Your view of saving faith by osmosis is a strange one indeed!

Bilbo said...

Steve:
"i) There is no one-to-one correspondence between hearing the word and regeneration since both the elect and the reprobate can hear the word, but the reprobate remain unregenerate from start to finish."

So hearing the word (and understanding it?) isn't what causes regeneration?

"ii) The sequence between hearing and regeneration is irrelevant. That's not the issue. The issue is the sequence between hearing and believing (i.e. regeneration as causally prior to saving faith).'

So you would say that regeneration occurs after hearing but prior to believing?

"Once again, what Reformed theologians have you ever read?"

Actually, this is the first time you asked me that question. None.

Anon: "Your view of saving faith by osmosis is a strange one indeed!"

Not my view.

steve said...

Bilbo said...

"So hearing the word (and understanding it?) isn't what causes regeneration?"

Obviously not since a listener can hear the Word, but remain unregenerate.

"So you would say that regeneration occurs after hearing but prior to believing?"

Irrelevant. You're not paying attention to what I said.

"Actually, this is the first time you asked me that question."

Wrong.

" None."

Don't you think you should acquaint yourself with Calvinism before you presume to raise objections?

Bilbo said...

Bilbo: "So you would say that regeneration occurs after hearing but prior to believing?"

Steve: "Irrelevant. You're not paying attention to what I said."

Before, Steve said: :"The issue is the sequence between hearing and believing (i.e. regeneration as causally prior to saving faith)."

That sounds like you're saying,
"regeneration occurs after hearing but prior to believing."


"Actually, this is the first time you asked me that question."

Wrong.

Show me where you asked the question before.

Steve: "Don't you think you should acquaint yourself with Calvinism before you presume to raise objections?"

Not when I have someone as obviously as erudite as yourself to educate me.

steve said...

Bilbo said...

That sounds like you're saying,
"regeneration occurs after hearing but prior to believing."

Try to keep track of your own question. You've bundled two different questions into one:

I) What's the sequence of regeneration in relation to hearing?

ii) What's the sequence of regeneration in relation to believing.

You then proceed to mix these up as if they're necessarily interrelated.

Don't expect a 2-term answer when you ask a 3-term question.

Bilbo said...

Then allow me to ask both questions:

I) What's the sequence of regeneration in relation to hearing?

ii) What's the sequence of regeneration in relation to believing.

steve said...

"I) What's the sequence of regeneration in relation to hearing?"

There is no set sequence.

"ii) What's the sequence of regeneration in relation to believing."

Regeneration is causally prior to faith.

Bilbo said...

"I) What's the sequence of regeneration in relation to hearing?"

Steve: "There is no set sequence."

So could one be regenerated before hearing the preaching of Christ?

Bilbo said...

Well, Steve, you inspired me finally to open and read some of Calvin's Institutes:

"That repentance not only always follows faith, but is produced by it, ought to be without controversy." (Book III, Chap.III, Sec.1)

"In one word, then, by repentance I understand regeneration...." (Book III, Chap.III, Sec.9)

Contrast with your statement:

"Regeneration is causally prior to faith."

Are you sure you're a Calvinist?