Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Woe to you, Chorazin!

21 Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. 22 But I tell you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for Tyre and Sidon than for you. 23 And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You will be brought down to Hades. For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day (Mt 11:21-23; cf. Lk 10:13; 11:29-32).

Some Molinists say this passage is at variance with Calvinism. 

i) If we take the passage to mean that miracles alone are the differential factor, then there's a sense in which that's inconsistent with Calvinism. But in objection to Calvinism, that either proves too much or too little, for it's equally inconsistent with Thomism, Lutheranism, Congruism, Evangelical Arminianism, &c.

The passage itself is silent on the necessity (much less sufficiency) of grace. Taken without qualification, the passage is consistent to Pelagianism or rationalism, according to which faith is merely a conjunction of unaided reason and evidence. There's no need for prevenient grace or sufficient grace. The passage is silent on resistible or irresistible grace alike. 

Likewise, it says nothing about libertarian freewill. Keep in mind that Pelagianism and rationalism are consistent with determinism (e.g. John Locke).

Consider, too, that Molinism is a theory of divine providence. It has no distinctive or essential soteriology. Because Molinism was originally a Jesuit innovation, it had to comport with the state of Catholic dogma at the time, but that's incidental to the unique character of Molinism. 

ii) In Calvinism, sola gratia doesn't mean faith exists apart from evidence. The presence or absence of suitable evidence can be a differential factor in faith or disbelief. As one Reformed theologian notes:

Faith is the gift of God; but it does not in the least follow that the faith that God gives is an irrational faith, that is, a faith without grounds in right reason. It is beyond all question only the prepared heart that can fitly respond to the "reasons": but how can even a prepared heart respond, when there are no "reasons" to draw out its action? One might as well say that photography is independent of light because no light can make an impression unless the plate is prepared to receive it. The Holy Spirit does not work a blind, an ungrounded faith in the heart. What is supplied by his creative energy in working faith is not a ready-made faith, rooted in nothing and clinging without reason to its object; nor yet new grounds of belief in the object presented; but just a new ability of the heart to respond to the grounds of faith, sufficient in themselves, already present to the understanding. Selected Shorter Writings of Benjamin B. Warfield (P&R 1980), 2:98-99.

If miracles are necessary evidence for some people to come to faith, and God grants that evidence, then miracles can a part of saving grace. God's gracious provision for the lost. In a sense, grace is whatever God does to save sinners. 

iii) That doesn't mean evidence alone is adequate, apart from a receptive mind. The very next verse refers to the discriminating nature of saving grace ("I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children.") So the preceding passage was never meant to stand alone, in isolation to other differential factors. 

iv) Moreover, the passage itself says Tyre and Sidon were denied the opportunity afforded Christ's contemporaries. So God doesn't give everyone the same chance, pace Arminianism, even when, according to their prooftext, the ancient pagans would have responded favorably–given a chance. 

It's not just that, according to their prooftext, God didn't even give them an opportunity. It's worse than that! God denied them the opportunity even though he knew that if they had that opportunity, their favorable response was assured. He could have saved them but he didn't.

Yet Arminians routinely say, in contrast to Calvinism, that God does everything he can to save sinners. He wants everyone to be saved. He does whatever he can, consistent with their libertarian freedom, to make that possible.

But in this case, it's more than a possibility–it's a certainty! According to the Arminian/Molinist interpretation of this text, God was able to save them, without coercion. Had he provided the same kind of miraculous evidence, they'd repent. They'd be heavenbound. 

Far from posing a dilemma for Calvinism, this poses a dilemma for the Molinist. They can't resort to the blocking maneuver of infeasible worlds, for by their own admission, this is a feasible counterfactual scenario. 

But what, then, becomes of God's "omnibenevolence"? What becomes of divine love as God acting in the best interests of everyone? 

v) Jesus is speaking in generalities. After all, some of his own disciples were recruited from the condemned cities. Bethsaida was the hometown of Philip, Peter, and Andrew (Jn 1:44). And they answered the call when they were residing in Capernaum (Mt 4:13,18; 8:5,14). 

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