Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Steve Hays of Triablogue answers Bill Craig

1 comment:

Grano1 said...

Steve Hays says, "...only Calvinism can logically support the proposition that we are saved by faith alone through grace alone in Christ alone." This brief sentence is loaded with presuppositions that would need to be examined before one could get to the root of the thing. What does Hays mean by "saved"? Is he talking about mere justification or the entire salvation process of justification, sanctification and glorification? Why should we assume we are saved by "faith alone" when not all Christians accept that soteriological formula? And perhaps most importantly, what does it matter whether Calvinism logically supports these presuppositions, if in fact they are incorrect?

I think that light can be shed on the problem here, which has surfaced over and over again in the history of Western Christianity, by taking a look at how Eastern Christianity, following the Greek fathers, has dealt with the issue. In the East, the problem of the reconciliation of God's sovereignty with man's free will has never been a major issue of contention precisely because it CAN'T be worked out logically. To the Eastern fathers the relationship between the two is a mystery, and a mystery in the strict sense, just like the mystery of the Holy Trinity and the mystery of the hypostatic union. It can no more be "solved" by logic and dialectical reasoning than can those other two mysteries. The reason that the problem has resurfaced so often during Western Christian history is that Western theologians since St. Augustine have been attempting to reconcile two things (God's sovereignty and man's freedom) that to the East are logically irreconciliable by their very nature, and thus have come down repeatedly on once side or the other; this causes the opposition to respond and the argument goes on, ad infinitum.

What is very helpful is to read the Church fathers on this issue, beginning with those who opposed the Augustinian understanding at the time of the Pelagian controversy, especially St. John Cassian and St. Vincent of Lerins (one of the things that was immediately apparent to me, both in Craig's article and Hays's response, was the lack of much if any appeal to the patristic witness). Cassian and Vincent are often considered "Semi-Pelagians" by later Western theologians, but as Lutheran scholars Jaroslav Pelikan and J.L. Neve have both pointed out, the moniker is inaccurate. First of all it is anachronistic (the term wasn't coined till hundreds of years later) and secondly, as Neve states, it's far more accurate to call them Semi-Augustinians, as they agreed with Augustine on everything except this one issue (Cassian in some ways was toughter on the Pelagians than Augustine).

The best account of the theological issues at stake in Pelagian controversy and its aftermath appears in Pelikan's five volume history of doctrine (I forget if it's in vol. 1 or 2). For a brief but deep and thorough discussion of the theological and philosophical understanding of the Christian East regarding God's sovereignty and man's free will, see the appendix of Joseph Farrell's book FREE CHOICE IN ST. MAXIMUS THE CONFESSOR, in which patristics scholar Farrell relates the issue to St. Maximus's struggle against the Monothelite heresy. St. Maximus is in some ways "the Augustine of the East," but he tends to deal with this issue not in (in Farrell's words) a "primarily dialectical, anthropological, philosophical light," but as "a primarily christological, trinitarian, and eschatological problem."