Thursday, August 24, 2006

Soli Deo Gloria

At 4:59 PM, Grano1 said…

Grano: 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?

http://dangerousidea.blogspot.com/2006/08/steve-hays-of-triablogue-answers-bill.html#comments

SH:

1.I didn’t say that we’re saved by faith alone. Grano unaccountably drops the other nouns out of the claim: faith>grace>Christ.

2.Strictly speaking, we’re justified by faith and saved by grace. Salvation is wider than justification alone. Salvation does sweep in justification, sanctification, and glorification.

3.Why should we assume it? Because you can’t prove everything all at once. In every argument you have to take certain things for granted. You can revisit them at a later date if need be.

The original context of my post had to do with Billy Graham’s position that it’s possible for adults to be saved without exercising faith in Christ.

He’s come under criticism for this, and rightly so.

But my point is that the criticism needs to be broadened. Short of Calvinism, every theological tradition is implicitly or explicitly open to salvation apart from faith in Christ.

4.Now, for many people, that’s a good thing.

My article was directed at those for whom faith in Christ is not so easily disposed of.

5.And this is not some side issue. It goes to the question of why anyone should be a Christian.

Grano is pulling for Orthodoxy. But if faith in Christ is dispensable, then why should anyone be an Orthodox Christian—even if Orthodoxy is true?

Why have churches? Why have sacraments? Why read the church fathers?

If faith in Christ is inessential to salvation, then you don’t need to be a Christian. There’s no necessity, much less urgency.

Grano: 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.

SH: This is also loaded with unexamined presuppositions:

1.It assumes that the relation between divine and human agency is, indeed, irreconcilable. “Logically” irreconcilable. In the “very nature” of the case.

These are ambitious claims. Where’s the supporting argument?

2.I agree that the two are irreconcilable if you assume a libertarian theory of free agency.

You can generate a specious antinomy by misdefining one term of the relation.

3.Grano’s objection is a straw man argument. Calvinism has nothing to do with “solving” the relation by logic and dialectical reasoning.

For Calvinism this is first and foremost an exegetical issue. How does the Bib le present divine sovereignty? How does the Bible present human agency and human incumbency? How does the Bible relate the two?

Does the Bible permit us to define human agency in libertarian terms? No.

Does the Bible treat divine and human agency as cofactors? No.

The Bible subordinates the human response to divine initiative.

4.Now, some critics aren’t satisfied with exegesis. They raise philosophical objections.

In that event, we respond to them on their own plane.

It takes just as much “logical and dialectical reasoning” to justify Grano’s presuppositions as it does to justify Calvinism.

Grano’s way of framing the debate is prejudicial and stipulative.

Grano: 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).

SH:

1.Notice that he tries to frame the debate in terms of historical theology.

But if it’s very helpful to read the church fathers on this issue, then it’s far more helpful to read a few good Bib le commentaries on John, Romans, Ephesians, Isaiah, and so on.

2.Grano objects to “logical and dialectical reasoning,” but what is his alternative? Revelation? What God has revealed about divine and human agency?

No, he turns to tradition.

Grano: 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.

SH: The “philosophical” understanding of the Christian East regarding God’s sovereignty and man’s free will.

So it’s wrong to approach the issue by logical and dialectical reasoning, but okay to approach it by philosophical reasoning. At least it’s okay to do so if you’re one of the Greek Fathers.

Grano: 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."

SH: Why should we a deal this issue as "a primarily christological, trinitarian, and eschatological problem"?

Rather, in attempting, if possible, to understand the relationship between divine and human agency, it makes a lot more sense to look for the answer, if there is one, in books or passages of Scripture that deal directly with the relationship between divine and human agency—especially with reference to man in state of sin.

6 comments:

  1. Just out of curiosity, who is this blog for? Your Calvinist God will either save people or He won't, right? What need is there to "convince" people with reason? Is that how you came to believe? A well-framed argument? Doesn't faith require something beyond reason, anyhow?

    Or are all of these windy, verbose commentaries merely designed to convince yourselves of something you're really not all that sure about?

    - Todd

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  2. Or convince others who are yet unsure. There are and have been many people who have remained Christians, but their witness and walks were compromised by doubts that only left them at the very end.

    On faith requiring something beyond reason, what do you mean, beyond reason? Irrational or super-rational?

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  3. Oh, and would you care to engage with many of the replies made to your earlier points, or do you believe that a moving target is hard to hit?

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  4. Todd,

    1. This blog is for Christians and undecideds.

    2. You're falling into the Hyper-Calvinist fallacy. God decreed that he will save me through faith in Christ.

    Faith has an evidential foundation, although the breadth of the foundation is person-variable.

    3. We believe or disbelieve something because we have reasons for believing or disbelieving. Good reasons. Bad reasons. Intuitive reasons. Analytical reasons.

    4. Yes, faith needs something beyond reason. It needs regeneration.

    5. No, I didn't come to faith through a well-framed argument. But this blog isn't for my personal benefit.

    6. If, however, you choose to be suspicious of my motives, then I'm the wrong person to ask.

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  5. My original post was supposed to be linked to the "Muddle thinking" thread, but all's well...

    Steve says of my summary: "It assumes that the relation between divine and human agency is, indeed, irreconcilable. “Logically” irreconcilable. In the “very nature” of the case.

    These are ambitious claims. Where’s the supporting argument?"

    As this was simply a descriptive summary of Eastern patristic teaching on the issue, I saw no need to include supporting argumentation. Nothing's not being argued, merely described.

    Steve: "For Calvinism this is first and foremost an exegetical issue. How does the Bible present divine sovereignty? How does the Bible present human agency and human incumbency? How does the Bible relate the two?"

    Undoubtedly depends on who's doing the exegesis, does it not? Chrysostom reads it quite differently than Augustine, for instance.

    Steve: "Does the Bible treat divine and human agency as cofactors? No."

    Again, depends on whose reading of the Bible you're reading. Many scholars, including great fathers of the Church say "yes."

    Steve: "Now, some critics aren’t satisfied with exegesis."

    As no one should ever be: it's never objective and never proves anything in and of itself. Why? Because it varies greatly from exegete to exegete.

    Steve: "But if it’s very helpful to read the church fathers on this issue, then it’s far more helpful to read a few good Bib le commentaries on John, Romans, Ephesians, Isaiah, and so on."

    This is patent nonsense. Out of the 8,000 commentaries floating around out there, how do you know you've got a "good" one? I'm willing to bet the "good" ones are those that agree with Steve. Plus, why are modern commentaries assumed to be more valuable than the Fathers' works? I'd argue the exact opposite.

    Steve objects to my recourse to historical theology. Of course, as an appeal to historical theology cuts the legs out from under Calvinism -- no Calvinists in the early church!

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  6. Grano1--

    Undoubtedly depends on who's doing the exegesis, does it not? Chrysostom reads it quite differently than Augustine, for instance.

    Yes, exactly. Not to mention the fact that there are 8 million different reading of Augustine as well. Whose token ECF will he be this week? RC? Protestant? Calvinist?

    As no one should ever be: it's never objective and never proves anything in and of itself. Why? Because it varies greatly from exegete to exegete.

    You are exactly right. The lie of modernistic hermeneutics is that 1.) there is an objective and accessible meaning lying somewhere within the text and 2.) by adopting the "right" methods of exegesis, one can explicate exactly what this is. Obviously, the very nature of human discourse mitigates this possibility, as meanings are not "there" waiting to be discovered, but are rather created through the engagement of two (or more) contexts.

    This is patent nonsense. Out of the 8,000 commentaries floating around out there, how do you know you've got a "good" one? I'm willing to bet the "good" ones are those that agree with Steve. Plus, why are modern commentaries assumed to be more valuable than the Fathers' works? I'd argue the exact opposite.

    Steve objects to my recourse to historical theology. Of course, as an appeal to historical theology cuts the legs out from under Calvinism -- no Calvinists in the early church!


    Yes, the Calvinist appeal to "historical theology" only travels back about 400 years, and then jumps another 1600+ years to a de-constructed Augustine, one who is no longer the true-blue Catholic that he actually was.

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