Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Kicking at the goads

Victor Reppert said...

“I have trouble seeing the point of telling someone that if they're elect, God won't let them apostasize. If people are apostasizing right and left, and I am wondering if I'm going to hold up under temptation, and you say ‘If you're elect, you won't apostasize’, then I have to say ‘That doesn't help a whole lot. How do I know I'm elect?’… And to someone in that situation, I don't see that saying ‘Well, God has his elect picked out from before the foundation of the world, and if you are in that number, you will be able to avoid falling away.’ That wouldn't give me much of any assurance if I were concerned about the strength of my faith in the face of temptation or doubt. "

Assuming that election is limited in that particular respect, so what? A truth doesn’t have to be helpful to be true. And a truth can be helpful in one respect, but unhelpful in another.

Even if you say belief in election is subjectively unhelpful, it remains objectively and supremely helpful to the elect.

Suppose, in a double-blind trial, I’m administered a cure for my terminal cancer. But I don’t know that it will cure me-even though, unbeknownst to me, it’s bound to cure me.

My ignorance of the outcome renders the cure subjectively unhelpful. Yet being cured of terminal cancer is objectively helpful.

“There is also some difficulty with respect to how deferential I ought to be toward exegetes. On the one hand, I could say that exegetes differ on how to interpret a given passage, and that I probably shouldn't allow my anti-Calvinist moral intuitions (which I believe to be derived from natural law, as opposed to mere personal feeling) to be overthrown by biblical arguments unless there is something like exegetical consensus.”

Consensus is irrelevant to the quality of an argument. And consensus may vary from one period to another.

“If I say something like that, then I am told that I ought to be able to evaluate the arguments of the exegetes and reach my own conclusion…”

Well, isn’t that a reasonable thing to tell a philosophy prof.? Don’t philosophers evaluate arguments?

“…and that I must be refusing to submit myself to God's Word.”

We’ve told him that because he himself has cast the issue in those terms. Remember that take-it-or-leave-it quote from Talbott that he’s fond of citing?

“If, however, I look at the passages and try to make an argument based on Scripture that cuts against Calvinism (although, as I pointed out, the argument is against theological determinism and not Calvinism, since Calvinism, per se, is consistent with LFW), I am then told that I should take the word of these authorities that I must be wrong. There seems to be a little tension between these two stances.”

Can he quote where I or somebody else said he should take it on authority? Reppert is rewriting history here.

This is how the exchange actually goes. Reppert claims that “Calvinist” exegesis of Arminian prooftexts is “desperate.”

I then quote from non-Calvinist commentators who present interpretations of Arminian prooftexts consistent with Calvinism. I then make two points:

i) I thereby show that Calvinism doesn’t depend on “Calvinist” exegesis of Arminian prooftexts, contrary to Reppert’s original contention.

ii) I also ask Reppert to show, if he can, what is wrong with the non-Calvinist interpretations I cited.

“But don't a lot of people worry that they just can't resist temptation? Despair in the face of temptation is pretty common, isn't it? Even if people think they have free will, they may also think that temptation may bear down on them for so long that they really don't have a chance to successfully resist long-term. ‘He just keeps flattering me, and hitting on me, and sooner or later I know that I'll end up giving in. and then I won't be able to face God.’"

i) Yet Reppert framed the discussion in terms of 1 Cor 10:13. If, however, even non-Calvinist commentators explain that this has reference, not to temptation in general, but aggravated forms of apostasy, then it fails to substantiate Reppert’s contention.

ii) Apropos (i), giving into temptation is not equivalent to apostasy. While apostasy is a sin, not every sin is apostasy.

iii) Fear of temptation can be a mark of regeneration, you know. It’s not as though Hugh Hefner is in despair over his low resistance to temptation.

“Walls and Dongell say that someone facing difficulties with one's faith can say, if Arminianism is true, that they can be sure that God loves them. If Calvinism is true, doubts and temptations can be taken as grounds that maybe God has really reprobated you.”

But, according to Arminianism, hell is chock-full of God’s loved ones. He loves everyone he damns. How does that help someone suffering a crisis of faith?

“As for Cartesian certainly, yes, someone can be reasonably sure of one's election and future perseverance so long as one is not in the midst of a moral crisis or a crisis of faith. But these crises do happen, and when they do, it seems difficult to find spiritual support in Calvinist terms.”

If they can’t find spiritual support in a theological tradition (e.g. Calvinism) where God will keep born-again from losing their salvation, then how will they find spiritual support in a theological tradition (e.g. Wesleyan Arminianism) where God won't keep born-again Christians from losing their salvation?


  1. "How will they find spiritual support in a theological tradition (e.g. Wesleyan Arminianism) where God won't keep born-again Christians from losing their salvation?"

    True. Either way, there's really no certain knowledge of the ending, only hope, which I consider to be desire tinged with some hint of possibility. That's the best anyone's going to get.

    Hope is considered a virtue, at least according to Scripture. If one can be truly certain, why the necessity of hope, and why does the Bible so frequently mention its necessity?

  2. “Walls and Dongell say that someone facing difficulties with one's faith can say, if Arminianism is true, that they can be sure that God loves them. If Calvinism is true, doubts and temptations can be taken as grounds that maybe God has really reprobated you.”

    This is such a tellingly inept comment. The question for someone facing difficulties should be whether salvation is at hand. And salvation is found in the cross. If you're asking "Does God really love me?" at a time of spiritual difficulty, you're a spiritual buffoon who obviously has a tenuously meager grasp of the gospel.

  3. The Puritans dealt with this issue (and related issues) all the time in their writings. Since, a misapplication of Calvinism can often lead to either antinomianism or excessive introspection (and therefore doubts about one's saved/gracious state, and therefore one's election). Their answers didn't always match up, but there was there core and standard ones that every Calvinist should be aware of.

    Here's just a short list of books I would recommend.

    Precious remedies against Satan's devices by Thomas Brooks

    Heaven On Earth by Thomas Brooks

    A Divine Cordial by Thomas Watson

    The Christian's Great Interest

  4. Plese forgive the typos in my previous post. I won't correct them since it's obvious what I was trying to say.

    But to add to what I said, misapplied Calvinism can lead to antinomianism or legalism because of syllogistic reasoning that doesn't input all the necesary premises.

    It has lead to antinomianism because in affirming that works play no part in justification or election (it not being based on foreseen faith or works), some have lived lives not regulated by God's law lest they implicitly deny 1. justification apart from works and 2. UNconditional election.

    It has also lead to legalism because professing Calvinists understood that some of the distinguishing marks of the elect are that they exercise faith in Christ and live lives that are progressively being sanctified. Since, all those whom God justifies, he also always (never fails to) sanctify. Knowing that, they often examined their lives to such a degree that they obsessed about whether they had enough genuine fruit to warrant their confidence that they were among the elect.

    What ending up happening was that what they explicitly kicked out the front door (i.e. justification by works and conditional election) they implicitly and practically (i.e. in practice) allowed in through the back door.

    Because our generation of Christians usually aren't as serious about holiness as previous generations, the problem of legalism arising from misapplied Calvinism doesn't plague a majority of Calvinists. However, now and then, a Calvinist who has a sensitive conscience and who's conscientious about living as obedient a life as possible can start to doubt his/her election because of how far he falls short of God's holy standard. The devil can take advantage of that and cause such a Calvinist (through temptations and lies etc.) to spiral down deeper and deeper into despair.

    This kind of experience was common among Calvinists in the 18th and 19th centuries. That's why Calvinist writers had to repeatedly deal with the problem in their writings. Many of their congregants were obsessed with gaining the "assurance of faith" that the Scriptures speak about. Or fell into dispair because they might have lost it. Or feared that they were deceiving themselves into thinking they were genuinely converted when they weren't. But again, this resulted from the misapplication of the doctrines of election.

    But, as Steve said, "A truth doesn’t have to be helpful to be true. And a truth can be helpful in one respect, but unhelpful in another."