Sunday, July 18, 2010

Clarifying Reformed Theology (Part 6)

Unlike previous parts of the Clarifying Reformed Theology series, I am going to be responding to a different individual this time around. This time, it is Eric Giunta, the same Roman Catholic I previously debated over the nature of authority. I will continue dialoguing with Jamie after I answer this fellow's points regarding the Reformed position.

Predestinationism is foreign to the thought of St Augustine, as he himself had to clarify on more than one occasion.

I suppose that is the reason why Augustine of Hippo wrote an entire treatise on the subject, eh? I could quote to you Augustine's entire Treatise On the Predestination of the Saints, but let me just give you a few brief excerpts that sum up how we view divine Election:

I carried out my reasoning to the point of saying: 'God did not therefore choose the works of any one in foreknowledge of what He Himself would give them, but he chose the faith, in the foreknowledge that He would choose that very person whom He foreknew would believe on Him,—to whom He would give the Holy Spirit, so that by doing good works he might obtain eternal life also.' I had not yet very carefully sought, nor had I as yet found, what is the nature of the election of grace, of which the apostle says, 'A remnant are saved according to the election of grace.' [Rom. 11.5.] Which assuredly is not grace if any merits precede it; lest what is now given, not according to grace, but according to debt, be rather paid to merits than freely given.
(Augustine. On the Predestination of the Saints. Ch. 7.)

Because a man, puffed up against another, might say, "My faith makes me to differ,'' or "My righteousness," or anything else of the kind. In reply to such notions, the good teacher says, "But what hast thou that thou hast not received?" And from whom but from Him who maketh thee to differ from another, on whom He bestowed not what He bestowed on thee? "Now if," says he, "thou hast received it, why dost thou glory as if thou receivedst it not?" Is he concerned, I ask, about anything else save that he who glorieth should glory in the Lord? But nothing is so opposed to this feeling as for any one to glory concerning his own merits in such a way as if he himself had made them for himself, and not the grace of God,—a grace, however, which makes the good to differ from the wicked, and is not common to the good and the wicked. Let the grace, therefore, whereby we are living and reasonable creatures, and are distinguished from cattle, be attributed to nature; let that grace also by which, among men themselves, the handsome are made to differ from the ill-formed, or the intelligent from the stupid, or anything of that kind, be ascribed to nature.
(Augustine. On the Predestination of the Saints. Ch. 10.)

It would be too tedious to argue about the several points. But you see without doubt, you see with what evidence of apostolic declaration this grace is defended, in opposition to which human merits are set up, as if man should first give something for it to be recompensed to him again. Therefore God chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world, predestinating us to the adoption of children, not because we were going to be of ourselves holy and immaculate, but He chose and predestinated us that we might be so. Moreover, He did this according to the good pleasure of His will, so that nobody might glory concerning his own will, but about God's will towards himself. He did this according to the riches of His grace, according to His good-will, which He purposed in His beloved Son, in whom we have obtained a share, being predestinated according to the purpose, not ours, but His, who worketh all things to such an extent as that He worketh in us to will also. Moreover, He worketh according to the counsel of His will, that we may be to the praise of His glory. [Phil. 2.13.] For this reason it is that we cry that no one should glory in man, and, thus, not in himself; but whoever glorieth let him glory in the Lord, that he may be for the praise of His glory. Because He Himself worketh according to His purpose that we may be to the praise of His glory, and, of course, holy and immaculate, for which purpose He called us, predestinating us before the foundation of the world. Out of this, His purpose, is that special calling of the elect for whom He co-worketh with all things for good, because they are called according to His purpose, and "the gifts and calling of God are without repentance." [Rom. 11.29.]
(Augustine. On the Predestination of the Saints. Ch. 37.)

Well aren't these exactly the kinds of things we who are Reformed Protestants would say? To say that we are innovating anything is pretty absurd at this point, given that Augustine and other church fathers made the exact same points long before us.

This was an issue he grappled with, but even he didn't think to set his private interpretations and exegesis against the teaching of God's Church, as Calvin did.

In reply to this, I again quote the great saint:

Neither dare one agree with catholic bishops if by chance they err in anything, but the result that their opinion is against the canonical Scriptures of God.

Also, what we contend is that these teachings that we proclaim are nothing new. What we espouse as the doctrines of grace were known even during the days of the early church. If you don't believe me, here is the proof.

And finally, we could get into an extended debate about what Augustine actually believed as Church teaching (Hint: He disagreed with quite a few things that Rome today regards as dogma), but that is to be the topic of another discussion. For now, our focus is on Divine Predestination.

The distinctions between God's active and His permissive wills also seems to elude you. God allowed the Romans to do as they did, He did not force them to.

Actually I spend a good deal of my discussions distinguishing between preceptive and decretive (those are the terms we prefer to use) wills, not to mention the role of secondary causes in bringing about what God has ordained to come to pass. It's too bad you didn't read my previous blog posts like I asked you to, because I dealt with these points at length when I was replying to my Wesleyan-Arminian friend, Jamie.

Now, I generally dislike repeating myself, but for the sake of understanding, let me repost some of the relevant passages that I wrote in previous parts of this series:

It must be said at the outset difference between ordaining something and causing something to take place. To illustrate this, just think of gravity. In order for a rock to move upward, I have to lift it up with my hand. In order for it to fall, however, I don't have to hurl the rock down towards the ground. I need only to let go of the rock and let gravity do its thing. The same can be said about sin. He does not cause anybody to sin or disbelieve in Him. Rather, He ordains these things in the sense that He makes use of our natural inclination to sin in order to bring about His own ends and purposes. In fact, it can be said that God by His grace actually restrains us from doing as much evil as we would otherwise do (the upshot of this is that whenever God hardens somebody's heart, He is actually loosening His grip of common grace upon that person so that their sin nature takes greater control). Look back at Joseph and his brothers. They were actually planning to kill their younger brother, yet God by His gracious providence worked in the heart of Reuben and made it so that they would just sell him into slavery instead (cf. Genesis 37:12ff).

Finally, regardless of God's sovereignty over all events, He still holds men accountable for what they will to do. This is why Judas can still be condemned as a “son of perdition” even though he did what he had to do in order for scripture to be fulfilled (cf. John 17:12). This is also why Jesus could say that the soldiers who crucified Him had sinned and needed to be forgiven even though their actions were a part of God’s foreordained plan (cf. Luke 23:34).
(From Clarifying Reformed Theology, Part 1)

Also, we never said God forces anybody to do anything. As I made abundantly clear, God makes use of men's own depravity (or as you Roman Catholics like to call it, concupiscence), to get them to willingly do what He has ordained for them to do. It's not like God is zapping the soldiers with the desire to sin or anything. Their natural sin nature (cf. Genesis 6:5, 8:21, Psalm 14:2-3, 51:5, 58:3, Jeremiah 17:9, Romans 3:10-12, 8:5-8, etc.) takes care of that.

And He prevents nobody from coming to Him, but merely allows human nature to run its course when sinful men reject Him Calvin himself stated this when he said,

Therefore, forasmuch as no man is excluded from calling upon God, the gate of salvation is set open unto all men; neither is there any other thing which keepeth us back from entering in, save only our own unbelief.
(Calvin, John. Commentary on Acts 2:14-21.)

He sets the door wide open for everybody who is willing to come to Christ. The only thing that prevents people from believing is their own sinful nature. Left to our own devices, we will choose to reject God. Every time. More than that, the very strawman that you accuse Calvinists of believing in was condemned by Calvin as a construct invented by unbelieving heathens:

...this fault they [the heathens] add... that when they do think of God it is against their will; never approaching him without being dragged into his presence, and when there, instead of the voluntary fear flowing from reverence of the divine majesty, feeling only that forced and servile fear which divine Judgment extorts Judgment which, from the impossibility of escape, they are compelled to dread, but which, while they dread, they at the same time also hate.
(Calvin, John. Institutes of the Christian Religion. I:4:4.)

Another obvious case study that I didn't bring up during my blog post series was Pharaoh. Scripture tells us first that God hardens his heart, and that Pharaoh hardens his own heart afterwards. How is this so? Well, God withdraws His common grace which is what enables Pharaoh to act good, and then Pharaoh's own sin nature takes over from there. Basically, God "lets Pharaoh be Pharaoh," as one good friend of mine put it. Why does God ordain this?

As for Me, behold, I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians so that they will go in after them; and I will be honored through Pharaoh and all his army, through his chariots and his horsemen. Then the Egyptians will know that I am the LORD, when I am honored through Pharaoh, through his chariots and his horsemen.
(Exodus 14:17-18, cf. Romans 9:17)

That is your answer. :-)

Also, the question I asked is one of logic. Scriptural exegesis is irrelevant. If the Scriptures ever did teach something illogical of God, they'd be exposed for literary straw.

Only a Roman Catholic would ever dare to say "scriptural exegesis is irrelevant." :-)

It's funny given that these same scriptures tell us:

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written:

"I will destroy the wisdom ofthe wise;
the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate."

Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?
(1 Corinthians 1:18-20, NIV, cf. Isaiah 29:14)

I tell you this so that no one may deceive you by fine-sounding arguments... See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ.
(Colossians 2:4-8, NIV)

If you won't listen to the Word of God, however, then listen to what the early church fathers had to say:

Do not, I beg you, bring in human reason. I shall yield to scripture alone.
(Theodoret of Cyrus. Eranistes. Ch. 1.)

But those who are ready to toil in the most excellent pursuits, will not desist from the search after truth, till they get the demonstration from the Scriptures themselves...
(Clement of Alexandria. The Stromata. XII:16.)

In regard to the divine and holy mysteries of the faith, not the least part may be handed on without the Holy Scriptures. Do not be led astray by winning words and clever arguments. Even to me, who tell you these things, do not give ready belief, unless you receive from the Holy Scriptures the proof of the things which I announce. The salvation in which we believe is not proved from clever reasoning, but from the Holy Scriptures.
(Cyril of Jerusalem. Catechetical Lectures. 4:17.)

There is, brethren, one God, the knowledge of whom we gain from the Holy Scriptures, and from no other source. For just as a man, if he wishes to be skilled in the wisdom of this world, will find himself unable to get at it in any other way than by mastering the dogmas of philosophers, so all of us who wish to practise piety will be unable to learn its practice from any other quarter than the oracles of God. Whatever things, then, the Holy Scriptures declare, at these let us look; and whatsoever things they teach, these let us learn; and as the Father wills our belief to be, let us believe; and as He wills the Son to be glorified, let us glorify Him; and as He wills the Holy Spirit to be bestowed, let us receive Him. Not according to our own will, nor according to our own mind, nor yet as using violently those things which are given by God, but even as He has chosen to teach them by the Holy Scriptures, so let us discern them.
(Hippolytus. Against Noetus. Ch. 9.)

So, if you want to debate this topic any further, let's debate it using scriptural exegesis. If you have any argument against the Reformed position which I have presented in these blog posts, present your arguments from the Word of God. :-)

Grace and Peace.


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