Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Enervetic Processions of the Robinson

For the past several weeks, Perry Robinson has been trying to due a cutesy, guilt-by-association number on Calvinism by drumming up some facile parallels between Calvin, Ockham, Origen, and Manichaeus. Since Perry is a reasonably bright and astute individual, he must know that this is a fallacious line of argument. The fact that he resorts to such sophistries says a lot about the sorry state of his own position.

But let’s move on to another argument. He thinks that Jn 10:17-18 is a prooftext for libertarian freedom:


He didn’t bother to explain himself in his original post. It’s only in the course of the point/counterpoint in the combox that he gradually explains himself. Moreover, there’s a backwards quality to his reasoning—by saying towards the end what he should have said at the outset. For that reason, I’m going to rearrange the order of his responses a bit, proceeding somewhat in reverse order.

“At the very least, Christ’s choice is to die or not to die. Second, the passage seems to indicate the power to choose to die or not to die. Those seem like genuine alternatives to me. His choice to die isn’t determined by a subordination of the human power of choice to the divine.”

Apparently, Robinson he takes the clause, “I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again,” to mean, “I have the (libertarian) freedom to die, and I have the (libertarian) freedom to refrain from dying.”

But there are several problems with this interpretation:

i) Even if the passage implied freedom of choice, that doesn’t single out libertarianism—for a compatibilist could easily interpret the passage consistent with compatibilism. Surely Robinson must know that.

ii) The distinction in v17 is not between two alternative outcomes: to die or to avoid dying. To the contrary, the distinction is between dying and coming back to life: between the crucifixion and the resurrection.

iii) Furthermore, these do not stand in opposition to each other, as if he chooses to do the one to the exclusion of the another. To the contrary, he does both—one right after the other.

Indeed, we probably have a purpose clause: he dies in order that he may rise again (Cf. Carson, Keener, Morris). The crucifixion is instrumental in facilitating the resurrection—as a means to an end.

iv) In addition, this is not about the “power to choose,” but the “authority” to act. He has this “command from the Father.” He is authorized to do this.

So Perry’s exegesis, if you can even call it that, is thoroughly incompetent. But that comes as no surprise. As Timothy Ware admits, “Biblical theology is not a field in which twentieth-century Orthodox have excelled,” The Orthodox Church (Penguin Books 1997), 337. And they evidently are making no progress in the 21C either.

“The question is not whether Christ had a ‘choice’ so much as whether the choice was ‘free.’ Was Christ free or was he predestinated to choose one option over the other? It would seem that doing the act of his own ‘accord’ would be sufficient to show that it was free, since it would exclude an external predestinating decree.”

i) This is yet another example of Perry’s acontextual exegesis, if you can even call it exegesis. Perry is alluding to one clause, while disregarding the other, earlier clause to which it’s related: “No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord.”

So what does the clause, “I lay it down of my own accord” stand in contrast to? To the statement that “No one takes it from me.”

In terms of the Johannine narrative, what this means is that his enemies will not be able to take his life before the appointed time.

Far from this running counter to the decree, it presumes the decree. They would kill Jesus as soon as they could if only they could. But they cannot thwart the plan of God. Christ will die at the appointed time—no sooner or later.

So in no sense does this clause stand opposed to the will of the Father. Rather, it opposes the will of man. And the malice of men will fail because they cannot frustrate the inexorable will of God.

Once again, Perry’s exegesis is simply inept. Indeed, there’s no effort to do exegesis.

ii) But while we’re on the subject, what is Jesus’ relation to the decree? In terms of his divine nature, Jesus is an agent or coauthor of the decree—along with the Father and the Spirit. God is not subject to the decree in the same sense that a creature is.

God was free to decree otherwise, whereas a creature is not free to decree otherwise. Indeed, a creature is not free to predestinate a single thing. That power and prerogative is exclusive to the Creator.

On the other hand, having freely decreed a given outcome, God is not at liberty to change his mind. God will do whatever he resolved to do.

“Calvinist’s and their ilk often gripe that there is no exegetical basis for libertarian freedom in human nature. Well, here is one passage and all I need is one. I have more, but one will do for now.”

This is simple-minded. Perry would only need one passage if there were no passages of Scripture which were opposed to libertarianism. If, however, there are such passages, then that it’s wholly inadequate to cite one passage in support of libertarian freedom. For, in that event, he must also reinterpret all of those opposing passages to bring them in line with his single prooftext.

“If death is the consequence of sin, then it is evil regardless of how one perceives it… So just to be clear, death isn’t an evil and choosing to die isn’t evil then? Is it a good?”

Once again, this is simplistic. The fact that death is evil doesn’t mean that dying (i.e. choosing to die) is (always) evil. There are circumstances in which an agent has a duty to die. A husband and father has a moral obligation to risk his life in order to save the life of his wife and kids.

Or, to go back to the verse in question, since Jesus is explicitly said to be acting on God’s command, it would be a sin for Jesus to refuse to die. He would be violating a direct order (as if were).

“No, that is not the question I am asking. People often assume that freedom requires a choice between objects of opposing moral value, good and evil. If that were so, which option here is the evil one? Or another way of asking the same thing is, is preserving one’s life an evil?”

Yes, for reasons I’ve just given, there are situations in which it is evil to preserve your own life. It may be evil to preserve your life at the expense of another life. And it’s evil if God has commanded you to die—in the case of Jesus going to the cross.

“Here is what I am offering. Two options are both good. Obedience to the Father consequently can take the form of either of the two options. Consequently the choice to lay down his life is quite personal in an existential-ish sense. The generalization of the desire to preserve life is necessary since it is part of human nature willed also by God.”

This is building on Perry’s misinterpretation of the verse. We don’t have two options. And even if we did, it would be evil for Jesus to disobey the Father by refusing to lay down his life for the sheep.

“Secondly, another lesson is that it seems like Jesus here has actionable libertarian type freedom, which is rather a diffiuclt pill to swallow on Calvinism or other similar models such as Thomism or Scotism… As I noted previously, this passage clearly seems to indicate that Christ enjoys libertarian type freedom in his humanity and certainly in his divinity. This runs counter to a number of other theological positions.”

Even if we concede, for discussion purposes only, his interpretation of the verse, Perry is reducing a two-step argument to a one-step argument. His implicit reasoning is that if Jesus had libertarian freedom, then human beings generally have libertarian freedom. But even if he were to establish the premise, the conclusion hardly follows without further argument.
Jesus is analogous to human beings generally in some respects, but disanalogous in other respects. Surely Robinson doesn’t believe that whatever is true of Jesus is true of you and me. Jesus is divine, therefore I’m divine. Jesus is omniscient, therefore I’m omniscient. Jesus is omnipotent, therefore I’m omnipotent. Jesus is impeccable, therefore I’m impeccable. Jesus is sinless, therefore, I’m sinless.

So Perry must come up with a supporting argument to show that on the issue of libertarian freedom (assuming, for the sake of argument, that Jesus had libertarian freedom), we fall on the analogous side of the comparison rather than the disanalogous side of the comparison. Unfortunately for him, Perry is merely positing a parallel instead of proving a parallel.

“The choice isn’t between objects of opposing moral value and that is in part the point. Often people think that freedom requires options of opposing moral value and it doesn’t. Consequently to view free will as requiring either options of opposing moral value or lacking alternatives because it would require options of opposing moral value is a mistake. The Good is not simple.”

This is equivocal. A compatibilist needn’t equate freedom with the freedom to do good or evil. But it doesn’t follow that a libertarian can also restrict freedom of choice to choosing between alternative goods.

“Some have written that it is impossible for Christ to change his mind, but I wonder, which mind or nous would that be, his human or divine intellect?”

i) With reference to his human nature, Jesus can often change his mind. However, this doesn’t mean that Jesus can change his mind by choosing to do evil rather than good.

ii) And this doesn’t mean that by changing his mind, he is changing the decree. Any change of mind would have been decreed.

iii) With reference to his divine nature, no, he can’t change his mind. Does Perry deny that?

If what, so is Perry’s position? That God has no plan for the world? Or that God had a plan for the world, but God revises his plan, a la open theism? Is every divine plan a contingency plan?


  1. Perry's attempt at an exegesis of John 6 is found here:


    Just thought that you might want to take a look.

    As I've been doing a little reading on EOxy, I've noticed that they (following in the footsteps of Athanasius, the Cappadocians, etc.) interpret the Bible and through the lens of Greek Platonism.

  2. I forgot to add...

    Because of their Platonism, their view of history and God's decree takes on something similar to the Greek form/matter dialectic.

  3. "If death is the consequence of sin, then it is evil regardless of how one perceives it… So just to be clear, death isn’t an evil and choosing to die isn’t evil then? Is it a good?”

    Wait a minute. If the consequence of sin is death; therefore death is evil...

    does it follow since the consequence of speeding is a speeding ticket; therefore speeding tickets are evil?

    Or (pick your crime)...the (pick your consequence) is evil?