Tuesday, February 19, 2008
"I want to dig a little deeper and get into what I believe to be an inconsistency within Calvinistic monergism."
Okay, let's get out our shovels and dig.
"I want to dig a little deeper and get into what I believe to be an inconsistency within Calvinistic monergism. Before I do that I want to say that I don’t believe monergism vs. synergism is the proper way to frame the debate. These terms are too ambiguous, and often misunderstood (especially synergism), and I believe that Arminianism has both monergistic and synergistic elements so it is not proper to call Arminianism entirely synergistic. For me the debate is best described as a disagreement over whether or not salvation is conditional or unconditional."
He better disambiguate the term since one can't show a logical ‘inconsistency’ if his terms are ambiguous. We're not getting off to a good start. This isn't atypical with these guys; sorry to say.
Second, by ‘salvation being conditional’ does he only mean ‘If you believe, then you will be saved.’ As he says, that's just a quote from the Bible. So he just means we read statements that have the logical form of a conditional? Well, no Calvinist denies this. So is he saying there is no debate? His best way of describing the debate is to parse it out in terms the Calvinist doesn't debate.
Third, we'd have to bring in qualifiers. Sometimes 'salvation' is spoken of in terms of just regeneration, or just justification, or just sanctification (progressive or definitive), or just glorification, or the whole package. Or, another qualification: in what sense do we speak of ‘conditions?’ Are we speaking of conditions in any sense whatsoever? Well then why think the Reformed theologian believes any of the items in the ordo are not wrought with conditions attached? Election is a condition for regeneration. Jesus’ resurrection is a condition for ours. Etc.
Perhaps he just means ‘conditional’ on exercising faith?’ Well then, on this scheme, regeneration isn't 'conditional,' for example. On the other hand, ‘if you have faith, then God will justify you,’ comes in the form of a conditional. That is, in the form of an if-then statement. But it is not conditional in the sense of, say, Adam's conditions for remaining in the garden. The faith we have is in something outside of us. In someone who did all the work required. Thus the faith we express trusts and rests in the alien work of Christ. But we must express faith. Faith is the instrument of justification. This faith is also a gift, it is not wrought by our own power apart from God's Spirit in our lives. So, in this sense faith is instrumentally conditional.
Fourth, Calvinism has 'monergistic and synergistic' elements too it as well. For example, monergism with respects to regeneration and justification. But take progressive sanctification. Many protestants have called this synergistic in the sense that it is really we who battle our sin. I am an active participant in the fight. I actively partake of the means of grace. I don't 'let go and let God,' as it were. And of course none of this can be accomplished without the work of the Spirit in our lives.
Fifth, it is not necessary for final, complete salvation that one be progressively sanctified. God can regenerate a soul, justify that person, and strike them dead that minute. Thus a monergistic work is the only thing necessary for salvation (e.g., the thief on the cross might not have been progressively sanctified. If so, we can think of others who might die 1 second after justification, say).
Thus with his sloppy categorizing, nothing interesting follows from the above. Given the vague and ambiguous way he's using terms, a Calvinist might agree with everything he's said. Once wonders why all the hubbub. Since there is hubbub, we should cast a suspicious eye on the way he has framed the discussion so far. Many a disaster has started because of being unclear. I recall a the child's joke we had when the space shuttle Challenger exploded. It went like this: 'No, I meant I wanted a Bud light.' (For those that remember the old Bud light commercials.)
"When I say that Arminianism is both synergistic and monergistic I mean that the Arminian sees salvation as a work of God alone. God alone forgives. God alone regenerates. God alone sanctifies. We are not capable of removing our own sin or making atonement for ourselves. We are not capable of creating new life within us. We are not capable of making ourselves holy. All these are monergistic acts of God. When the Arminian says that one needs to believe in Christ to be saved we are just echoing the testimony of Scripture that says that faith is the condition that God requires be met before He will save."
When Scripture speaks of if you believe then you will be saved, it is speaking about justification. But this faith isn’t a 'working' it is a 'receiving.' No 'working together,' then. No 'synergism.' And, we are not saved by faith. We are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in the person and work of Jesus Christ alone. And, of the above, God does not of it unless our Arminian first has faith. All of it, then, is conditioned on his faith. Thus it is incorrect to say that he only thinks justification is conditioned on his faith.
"God has sovereignly determined to make salvation conditioned on faith. He could have made salvation unconditional but He chose instead to make it conditional. That salvation is conditioned on faith does not mean faith is a work or a contribution to salvation. It is just the meeting of a condition and the nature of that condition disqualifies it from being something one can boast in before God."
Yes, the promises come in the form of a conditional, but Reformed theology teaches that Christ has met any and all conditions man must meet in order to have everlasting life--either by his work, or by securing for us what we need. So, in regards the former, Christ lived a perfect life in our place, he met that condition for us. In regards the latter, he did not have saving faith for us. But, he purchased, or acquired them for us. The Holy Spirit then applies this all to us. Thus Reformed theology can agree with the conditions of salvation, it's just that we see Christ fulfilling or acquiring them all for us. If it may be called a condition, it is not something we must do, it is something that has been done for us. Our faith is not the ground of our salvation, but is but an instrument for receiving all of Christ. Thus we are not saved by faith, at all. Since we are not, then this Arminian has failed to show any synergism in his only admission of synergism. In fact, the Bible nowhere says that we are saved by faith. So, yes, in history, in this historical administration by which we travel the road of the covenant of grace unto completion, we must exercise faith. Thus I would rather call faith the sole instrument in justification, rather than the 'condition' of justification. But, I can grant that in the Bible we see a hypothetical statement, technically called a 'conditional.' At any rate, we are not even justified by 'faith' qua 'faith' but, rather, faith in Christ. It's not that we have 'faith' it's who are faith is in. The problem with all of this is that the Arminian views faith as a prerequisite to all the rest. He performs a positive action, in turn God gives him the rest. This is much different that the Reformed conception of God's monergistic work being the prerequisite for faith. And even so, this faith is not a positive work on our end, but a passive reception. A naked and weak hand receiving all the benefits of Christ. It's not a head-on meeting of an condition, but rather a passive receiving of something. Our view is Christocentric, his is Anthropocentric.
"By faith we recognize our inability to save ourselves and cast ourselves on God’s mercy. Faith is surrender to God. It is giving up on ourselves. It is abandoning our own works and clinging to the work of God. If there is one element that is synergistic in salvation it is faith. God enables the depraved sinner to respond in faith, but the sinner must do the responding. God does not believe for us and God does not cause faith in us irresistibly. That is the only synergistic aspect of Arminianism. The rest is monergism. The synergism of faith is the only area where one could say that the sinner in a sense “saves himself”, but that is only in the context of re-positioning oneself in God’s favor through faith and repentance (Acts 2:40)."
None of this could be done if it were not for God's prior, and monergistic work of regeneration. A dead men doesn't "recognize our inability to save ourselves and cast ourselves on God’s mercy." But, yes, the Reformed would agree that men actually do the believing. We don't think God believes for us. And we agree that the normal operations are that if a man never places his faith in Christ, he will not be justified (I say normal operations to make room for the infants and the mentally disabled. There is some debate whether they exhibit faith or not. But mere exceptions don't refute). The main difference, again, is in the priority between faith and regeneration and the nature or character of faith. Is it a 'meeting' or a 'receiving?' This Arminian's conception is of a man who, without regeneration and thus a dead sinner, throws up his hands, declares that he can't do it on his own, and so lets God do his work. But he must allow God into his life in the first place. God waits for mans permission to work. And, as I pointed out above, since faith doesn't save, it's impossible for our Arminian to think he has shown any soteriological synergism!
"Yet, Calvinists still insist that faith is a work of merit if it is not irresistibly caused."
No, if it is something we must do in order to be saved. That is, if we are justified by having faith. In that sense it would be a work. And since you concede, you admit of a works based salvation. You 'meet' God halfway there. Justification couldn't be accomplished if it wasn't for your initiation. Your movement forward. Your 'meeting.'
"Some Calvinists will go so far as to say that Arminians believe that man has the capability to save themselves."
No, you have the capacity, as you admit, to 'meet' the lifeguard part way there. The Reformed view is that you are dead. Dead men don't 'meet' people anywhere. God must administer CPR. Without CPR you could not breath that first "thank you." If a man can even breathe a little, he needs no CPR. Our view isn't that an Arminian can't be consistent, it's that an Arminian can't be consistent if he wants to be faithful to all the teaching of the Bible. Given your assumptions, you may not have any problems. The only time a problem arises is when you try to say that your view is fully consistent with all the biblical witness.
"I have often heard Calvinists point to intercessory prayer as a problem for Arminianism. The argument says that in Arminianism prayer would be pointless since God will not irresistibly save the sinner. If our prayers cannot guarantee conversion, then they are pointless. As long as free will exists intercessory prayer cannot really be effective."
No, we just point out that if a man freely chooses to remain in his sins, then if God desires that he does not, God can't secure a salvation. On your view, man must meet God, and God cannot make sure man will do this. That is, the Calvinist can pray that if it is God's will, save so and so. And, God can answer this. The Arminian, on the other hand, cannot with confidence say that if God so wills, so and so will be saved. That is, if it is God's will he can actually answer our prayer. On the Arminian scheme, if is God's will then this isn't enough to secure a positive answer. So and so must take the first step; he must 'meet' God. So, we don't say that it is 'pointless' for the Arminian to pray, but we note that many times he prays as if he were a Calvinist. The Calvinist can pray knowing that God will answer his prayer, if he has so decreed that so and so believe. The Arminian cannot. We also at times see inconsistencies in your prayers. For example, Falwell said,
"He will not force you against your will to come to the cross."
"Do not let one person say ‘no’ to your precious will. Save the lost."
During the same prayer. What could it possibly mean, on an Arminian scheme, for God not to 'let' someone say 'no' who freely chooses to say 'no?' Take a person S. If S says no, that's it. God cannot make sure that S enters the kingdom. A Calvinist, on the other hand, can pray that God not let S say "no." If God has chosen to save S, he will not let S say 'no.' And so at the very least you must admit that you only have fellow Arminians to blame for these confusions. In other words, the saying: 'Clean up your own backyard,' is applicable here.
"It does not follow that if intercessory prayer cannot guarantee a result, then it is pointless. Arminians believe that God works persuasively on the human heart through the gospel to bring about a faith response. Prayer can have a profound effect on that process. The Arminian can pray for more opportunities to witness. He or she can pray that God will use circumstances to bring the sinner to a point of desperation. We can pray that God will continue to reveal Himself to the individual. We can pray that God will remove obstacles and barriers to unbelief. All of these things will increase the chance of conversion."
The Arminian prays for barriers to be removed so that it is easier for the lost to 'make that first move.' But the road can be clear of everything down to the last pebble, and if the lost decide to stay where they are at, all the prayer in the world will change nothing. On the Calvinist scheme, if God chooses to save the lost person, he will climb over all the barriers, and then administer life-giving serum to the dead sinner. This effects a new life and results in the completion, for what good work God begins in the man he will see it to the end. The Calvinist knows that no matter what barriers stand in the way, if God has so chosen, he will save the sinner.
The Alleged Inconsistency
"The underlying assumptions of Calvinist theology make a mess of intercessory prayer. Calvinism teaches that one is saved or lost on the sole basis of an eternal and irrevocable decree. Nothing can effectively change that decree. It is fixed. It is permanent. The decision was made for us before we were born. The decision was made before the universe was created. With this in mind the problems of intercession within Calvinist thought become quickly apparent."
Now we're at the meat of the post.
"The Arminian contends that intercessory prayer within a Calvinistic framework is pointless. Our prayers cannot have any effect on the eternal destiny of any individual. That destiny was fixed from eternity. No lack of prayer can prevent God from saving the elect and no amount of prayer can help the reprobate. Worse yet, the believer might waste countless hours praying for a reprobate who has no chance at heaven without realizing it."
Sure they can, as means. So, if God has decreed that S will be saved by means of X, then if X doesn't obtain, S wouldn't be saved. It is a package deal. Thus it is false to say what you say.
But you address this response below. So let's move on.
"The Calvinist objects on the basis that God decrees the “means” as well as the “ends” and intercessory prayer may well be the means that God uses to bring His elect to repentance. Let us then call on the Calvinist to define “means”. Do “means” have reference to the process by which God accomplishes something? If it does then the Calvinist must still admit that believers contribute to the salvation of the elect by way of intercessory prayer. Their prayer is part of the means and therefore a contribution. If that is the case, then salvation is not monergistic as Calvinism defines it. The only way that I can see to avoid such a conclusion is to deny that intercessory prayer is truly a means to an end (albeit God ordained). The moment that is admitted, we are right back to the problem of intercessory prayer serving no real purpose within Calvinist theology."
I would think the concept fairly simple to understand. If you want your friend to give you a bite of his tasty burger, you must communicate somehow. The end is the ingesting the burger, the communication of that desire was a means. Or, take when God parted the red sea. He used a strong east wind as a means to accomplish the end of allowing the Israelites to pass through the sea on dry ground.
Now the inconsistency is drawn out.
(1) If a believer's B prayer is a means to the end, a sinner's S salvation, then B is 'involved' in the salvation of S and thus the salvation of S isn't monergistic.
(1) rests on an assumption:
(1*) No one can be involved in salvation in any sense of the word 'involved,' no matter how broad, or else said salvation is not monergistic.
With rests on a broader assumption:
(1**) If anything is involved, no matter how broadly construed, in any operation, then that operation was done by two things and not one.
Having drawn out this assumptions, it will be child's play to show the errors in the argument. I'll list them off:
i) It should be stated first that Reformed theologians don't deny that other people are involved in a very broad sense of the word.
ii) Take the parting of the red sea. Since God used wind, it is no longer technically correct to say that God parted the red sea. Rather, God + wind parted the red sea. Or, take a violinist. Since the violin was 'involved' in a masterpiece performance, one cannot tell the violinist that she played beautifully. According to (1**), the masterpiece was done by two and not one.
iii) Notice that we are 'involved' (in a broad sense) in all of our salvation. Indeed, there must be a person to be saved. Without my involvement (broadly involved by the act of my existing) in glorification, there would be no glorification since no one would be there to be glorified. Similarly, if there is no party standing before the court then there is no one for God to declare righteous and thus justify. So, I am involved (in a broad sense) in my justification. Our Arminian friend must grant all of this, and so when he mentioned those parts of 'salvation' that were monergistic, he must retract according to his implicit assumption in (1*) and (1**). So, then, we 'contribute' to our justification by just being there. If we didn't 'contribute' in this way, there would be no justification since there would be no one to justify.
iv) Our prayers are not the ground of salvation, Christ's alien work is. His life and death is. So, it isn't even technically correct to attribute our prayers a soteriological synergism.
v) So, I haven't needed to deny the means answer, and I've shown that the argument against it is absurd and even turns against the very admissions of monergism the Arminian allows. Given his very broad conception of 'involved' or 'contribute' it would be hard to demarcate my instances of 'involvement' as relevantly different than his. Since my means answer is still in tact, then he cannot show any inconsistency, and so his entire argument, as stands, crumbles.