Thursday, December 11, 2014

False hope

I'm going to comment on some recent remarks by Jerry Walls:

If one freely rejects the truth, it is a fitting form of punishment to be given over to deception. But in that case, the person has rejected God and does not affirm Christian truth. God is not causing him to believe Christian truth as a form of punishment. Rather, he is allowing him to be deceived in believing lies. The case in the false hope is altogether different. The victim of the false hope "believes" the truth, has a sense of faith, is believing what seems true to him precisely because God is causing him to have these beliefs. The person in this situation has no ability at all to discern that it is a false hope, and indeed, it appears to be the "real thing" until God withdraws it. The possibility of such a scenario does indeed undermine assurance precisely because the person involved would be in a state of "faith" caused by God, that appears both to the person, and to others as the real thing. This is quite different than the Arminian counterpart. An Arminian who believes the truth has every reason to think his faith is real, and no parallel reason to think his "faith" is a false hope caused by God. I'm not aware of any Arminian who thinks God punishes unbelief with a false faith in the truth. In short, the problem for the Calvinist is the phenomenological similarity, if not indistinguishability, between real faith and the "false hope." 

Several problems:

i) It's like saying, because crazy people can't tell the difference between reality and illusion (delusion, hallucination), how do I know that I'm not crazy? 

And I'm sure there are philosophers in the skeptical tradition who press that conundrum. 

Perhaps part of this involves the distinction between first-order and second-order belief or knowledge. If I'm sane, then I'm not deluded about reality–even if I can't prove it. 

ii) The Wesley brothers spent a lot of time trying to shake churchgoers out of their complacency. According to evangelical Arminianism, there are lots of churchgoers who think they're heavenbound, but they self-deluded. They haven't been born again. Yet they have false hope. 

iii) Arminians routinely allege that according to Calvinism, only a chosen few are saved.  

When I challenge them to document where the fewness of the elect is official Reformed theology, or mainstream Reformed theology, or a logical entailment of unconditional election and/or reprobation, they can't. So they make a different move. They apply Mt 7:14 to Calvinism. 

However, this means that according to Arminianism, only a fraction of humanity will be saved. But if that's the case, then surely many professing Christians entertain false hope. That's not just a statistical anomaly or isolated incident, but commonplace. 

iv) In Calvinism, the unregenerate don't have the same experience as the regenerate. 

v) Walls acts as though, in Calvinism, those who have false hope have a different psychological experience than their counterparts in Arminianism. We might start by asking why some people have false hope? Well, there can be different reasons or grounds, but let's take one example: suppose someone espouses baptismal regeneration. He believes he's saved because he can show you his baptismal certificate. 

Now that could be the case if either Arminianism or Calvinism is true. 

vi) Then there's the fundamental illogicality of his position. One thing Calvinism and universalism share in common is the correlation between who God loves and who God saves. 

But in Arminianism, those don't match up. So if anything would be a reason to question your salvation, would it not be the nagging doubt that even though God loves me, that carries no presumption that I'm heavenbound.  

And I believe William Cowper's struggles with fears of not being elect were among the factors that led to his suicide.

Cowper didn't commit suicide, although he attempted suicide. 

Moreover, does Walls have any evidence that Cooper lost his mind because he doubted his salvation? As I recall, Cooper doubted his salvation because he lost his mind. It was mental illness that triggered spiritual doubts, not vice versa.

It is a well known fact that believers in both traditions sometimes struggle with their faith and wonder about the status of their relationship with God, sometimes doubting whether they are even saved.
The worst case scenario for the Arminian is that he has in fact lost his faith and broken his relationship with God.

One problem with Jerry's comparison is that it's one-sided. He concentrates on professing Christians who doubt their salvation. But what about professing Christians who don't doubt their salvation, but ought to? What about professing Christians who entertain false hope because their faith is wrongly grounded? Isn't that a worst-case scenario? Their lack of doubt is a problem. They're like somebody with a life-threatening illness who can't feel pain. As such, they don't seek medical intervention until it's too late. They never knew what hit them. 

In Arminian theology, some professing Christians suffer from false assurance. Their problem is just the opposite. Indeed, John and Charles Wesley thought churches were full of people in that self-deluded condition. 

Now given that none of us can be in a position to know whether or not another person is truly elect, a Calvinist pastor cannot with good conscience assure a struggling person that Christ died for him or her without claiming to know more than his theology permits. What a struggling believer most needs to be assured of is that God loves him, that Christ died for him, that God truly desires his salvation, and that God’s grace is at work in his life.

Actually, what a struggling believer most needs is not to feel saved, but to be saved. In Calvinism, the elect are heavenbound whether or not they have the assurance of salvation. And that's a great relief. Your salvation isn't dependent on your assurance of salvation.

What ultimately matters is not to know that you are saved, but to be saved. The ontology is more important than the epistemology. What ultimately matters is what ultimately happens to you, not what you believe will happen to you. 

I also think this conditional is true:If Wesleyan theology is true, those who are in Christ can know that they are among the elect who are finally saved. They too can have both subjective certainty and a warranted belief in their election that will be vindicated on judgment day. 

How can that possibly be true given the Wesleyan Arminian contention that born-again Christians can lose their salvation? As a friend of mine remarked: 

On Calvinism, if S has saving faith now then S will have saving faith to the end; thus any evidence S has for believing that he has saving faith now is necessarily evidence that he will be finally saved. But on Wesleyan Arminianism, even if S has saving faith now, S might not have saving faith to the end; thus any evidence S has for believing that he has saving faith now (which will be the same kinds of evidence as on Calvinism) isn't necessarily evidence that he will be finally saved. The evidential tie is broken.

1 comment:

  1. Wall's argument seems to border on the argumentum ad consequentiam fallacy. Wall's seems to be attacking some version of the concept of evanescent grace. As well as dealing with divine deception in Calvinism.

    I read this blog after reading another related and recent blog by Steve. I think my comments there also apply here.

    Steve said...
    But what about professing Christians who don't doubt their salvation, but ought to? What about professing Christians who entertain false hope because their faith is wrongly grounded? Isn't that a worst-case scenario? Their lack of doubt is a problem.

    What a GREAT point! And isn't the Arminian understanding of God's universal love something that can lead to such false hopes? It leads some professing Christians to licentiousness and others to universalism.