Februrary 10th there will be airing an interview on Ancient Faith Radio by Kevin Allen with myself on the subject of Universalism. For logistical reasons the interview will be recorded earlier (Feb 5th) but listeners can submit questions now via the AFR web page. Listen in and share!
“Then they asked, ‘Is it altogether necessary to speak of wills and energies on the subject of Christ?’ He answered, ‘Altogether necessary if we want to worship in truth, for no being exists without natural activity. Indeed, the holy Fathers say plainly that it is impossible for any nature at all to be or to be known apart from its essential activity. And if there is no such thing as a nature to be or to be known without its essential characteristic activity, how is it possible for Christ to be or be known as truely God and man by nature without the divine and human activities? For according to the Fathers, the lion who loses his roaring ability is no lion at all, and a dog without the power to bark is not a dog. And any other thing which has lost something naturally constiuative of it is not any more what it was.'”
About a year ago, his Beatitude Metropolitan Jonah addressed the meeting of the ACNA at which he delineated a number of things that must be jettisoned were real ecumenical dialogue to occur between the Orthodox and this newest iteration of Anglicanism. Among the eschewed was what his Beatitude called “the heresy of Calvinism.” That very weekend, while attending a reception for my nephew John and his new bride Becca, her father, a minster of the Reformed Episcopal Church, and a friend of mine from some years back (more than twenty: we had attended seminary together, we both served as clergy in the PCA parish in Allentown, PA), accosted me wanting to know what was heretical about Calvinism. The following post(s) is my reply.
This, like any essay on some historical ism, immediately demands an explanation of what exactly that ism entails. The matter becomes more urgent when certain people wish to rearrange categories at one time more-or-less settled, and with these disputes I shall have little to say. By “these” I mean the suppliants of the erstwhile Bishop Thomas Durham (aka N. T. Wright) and his putative new readings of Paul, and the tentacles of such readings that have ensnared contemporary Reformed circles under the sobriquet of Federal Vision. To be just, federal vision predates N. T. Durham’s musings by decades, many tracing it back to the disquiet surrounding Norm Shepherd at Westminster Seminary in the early 80s. I remember at the time thinking Shepherd’s stance odd, and later in the decade, having fallen in with a circle sympathetic to Shepherd (the aforementioned PCA parish in Allentown) due to some sacramental and ecclesiological affectations on my part, I found Shepherd more to my newly acquired taste. It is all now too easy to see such readings’ incoherence and inconsistency, both with the Westminster Standards, and with Calvin (though I do not equate the two), and like the Finns with Luther, all seemingly suffering from a case of ‘deification envy’. Thus for them, claims to be “Calvinist” at best must come with the obscene caveat “Calvinism better-informed.” All the arguments about Federal Vision and its accouterments I shall leave to one side, for they do not concern the basic Orthodox critiques: perhaps they are of great weight, but not to the basic problems as the Orthodox see them, for they concern matters “after the fact”. That is, they don’t address the questions of predestination, satisfaction theories of the atonement, and human union with Christ based upon human nature’s redemption through union with the Incarnate Logos. Thus, whether one wishes to sail on R. C. Sproul’s end of the Reformed boat, or on Jim Jordan’s, it is all of apiece for the Orthodox.
Steve Hays has taken it upon himself to reply on behalf of my recent criticism of James White and his ascription of libertarian free will to God here and here. I promised Steve I would reply to the rest and I think at least one round of replies would help clarify my position. As of today I am still waiting for any of White’s toadies to defend White’s claim that G0d has libertarian free will and that the Bible teaches it. Steve gives a two pronged response. First, White was being ambiguous, and second with respect to the Fall, I face the same problems Calvinists do in explaining how our first parents could sin being created good. As I am sure you’ll see, especially in the case these are just more Jedi mind tricks.
William Lane Craig
Craig may have some quirky and erroneous positions, but I think White does as well so noting that fact about Craig really doesn’t move me. To say that White’s theology is “consistently sound” is to preach to the choir at best. Furthermore, apart from being a serious problem it is actually a sign of genuine scholarship, as odd as it may seem. Professional theologians and philosophers often do hold such views. It’s a sign that White really doesn’t have any professional competence in the philosophical topics he discusses. That was part of the point. White is accusing Craig of gross ignorance regarding Calvinism, when White doesn’t seem to know the terms he is using.
To say that White didn’t use the term in the “elaborate sense” that I gave it concedes the point, that White doesn’t know what the term means. Second, the content I gave to the term has been spread across the literature for the last thirty years. Anyone familiar with any of it would recognize the sketch I gave as representing the concept. Arminians have been employing it in the sense I gave it, and I know White has read some of that literature.
Steve notes that it is a blog post and not an article in a journal. Fair enough. But I think that Steve misses the salient point. Craig’s comments weren’t in a journal either but a Sunday school podcast. If it is fair for White to criticize Craig’s brief comments, then it is so for my criticism of White’s.
Craig may have access to a research library, but one doesn’t have to in order to have access to catalogs from Oxford or any academic publisher. I can’t think of any introductory text on the issue in the last twenty years that doesn’t in the main give the gloss I give. So it is irrelevant that Craig has access to a research library.
Doubting that the philosophical literature on Frankfurt counter-examples was in White’s mind is exactly the point. He doesn’t really know of what he speaks. Secondly, even if he weren’t, any Calvinist worth his salt is familiar with Edward’s work on free will or Luther’s Bondage of the Will. If he thinks that God fulfills the libertarian conditions on free will, then the arguments given by Edwards and others that are quite popular that Libertarianism is incoherent are still out the window. I only need one case where an agent has it that White agrees to, to preclude him from using such arguments. And he gave me that one case. Moreover, White claimed that the teaching is Biblical and given his adherence to Sola Scriptura, he owes us some biblical support. So far none has been forthcoming. Why is that I wonder?
The disagreement is again not over whether Libertarianism is a coherent concept or if it is true. To say that there is a difference between White’s comments and a Calvinist with a doctorate in philosophy who specializes in the finer points of action theory does no work. First, this is not a finer point of action theory but a major term. Second, Steve makes the mistake of thinking that I am engaging Calvinism as a position, but I am not. I am engaging White and so for as White is concerned, Libertarianism is not an incoherent concept. So I am not burning a straw man, unless White is the scare crow. Moreover, White seems to think that he is competent to take on and correct someone with a doctorate in philosophy who does work in action theory and metaphysics. If that is too much for White then he should refrain from doing so and refrain from taking on persons who have expertise and training that he lacks. Otherwise, he is just as responsible for his comments as anyone else is. If White doesn’t wish to be held to the standards of precision of an expert then perhaps he shouldn’t entry the fray.
According to Jonathan Prejean, I asked good questions. Part of good philosophy is framing questions clearly to help get to the heart of the matter. You don’t have all the time in the world, so asking good questions is a way of scraping away unnecessary steps. My question was part of a discussion at Triumphications concerning the nature of grace (and the grace of nature) and the Theotokos. I want to know, qua explanation, if the Catholic model can explain why God has Mary immaculately conceived and free from inherited albeit analogical guilt, why not just skip all of the evil in the world and do this for everyone? Or perhaps more strongly, why not create everyone in a state of confirmed grace? This kind of question is significant for lots of reasons. Currently in the literature on the problem of evil, this essential question has been a major objection to Plantinga type free will defenses. I have seen it proposed in one form or another by everyone from typical atheologians as well as process and open theists. But on to Jonathan’s reply.
Jonathan replied: “I could have prevented the possibility of either of my children committing actual sin by slaughtering them after they were baptized. Why didn’t I do that? This I think shows the inadequacy of your underlying worry about the problem of evil. There is a purpose in people being allowed to be subject to evil, even if that purpose is necessarily inscrutable to reason. I will let my children possibly be damned to Hell, not because I hate them, but because I love them. I suspect it is the same with God.”
I responded with the following: “I don’t think you have given the proper analogy. God could have prevented lots of moral evil, not by doing some evil to human agents but by doing some great good to them. If you could have given your child a proverbial pill to prevent them from not only sinning but ever dying or any serious suffering, wouldn’t you do so? Now, you may object that your ways aren’t the ways of God. Fair enough, but given the imago dei, it is also true that we have via reason, barring Calvinism and Jansenism, a genuine notion of goodness. I can’t see why it wouldn’t be good to give them the pill. Do you?”
Russ Manion is a great friend of mine. When I was 15 or so and was reading Josh McDowell stuff, he more or less tutorted me in apologetics. He had a very long running apologetics discussion group out of his home. It ran for more than 20 years.
Russ always had a knack at balancing participation with leading a discussion. He used to say that he would bring back wounded kill for the cubs to practice on. He’d toss some poor villiage atheist into the shark tank and let us go at it.
Recently I have been having a polite conversation with John Hendryx of Monergism.com about Molinism, Augustine, grace and free will. You can read the exchange here. In any case, below is my most recent response. In paragraph 16, there is some new material to consider.
1. I think that on Monergism, it is the case that God wills alone since human volitional activity is a consequence rather than an activity with God’s volitional activity. That is what monergism means-one will is active. Which will is that, God’s or mine?2. John 6, per D.A. Carson and others, has a play between the individual and the collective. Consequently one has to be careful. V. 39 emphasizes the collection since it includes all those who are raised up. Unless you deny the General Resurrection or you specify another reason, other than Christ’s work and resurrection as a basis for the resurrection of all, v. 39 will not help you. This is why it says, “This is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all **that** He has given Me I lose nothing, but raise **it** up on the last day.” Consequently, Jesus is the source of life for all and he loses nothing of human nature, which was given him by the Father but raises it all up. From my perspective, the problem is that you view persons and nature as the same thing. John 6 on the other hand distinguishes the ways in which all come to him. Some come with faith and some not, but all come for all are raised. If not all come, then not all are raised. Vv. 39 and 40 cash out the ways of coming from v.37, naturally and personally. Those who come with faith, personally, receive a more abundant measure of life. (Jn 10:10) Read the rest of this entry »
To see the Greek font, be sure to grab the font here: