Sunday, March 16, 2008

Behind the beat

A while back I did a post on whether the Reformed doctrine of perseverance rendered divine warnings meaningless:

Although my post wasn’t specifically directed at him, Thibodaux replied:

I haven’t gotten around to responding because I had other things focus on. And there’s not much to respond to his since criticisms suffer from persistent intellectual confusions on his part.

“Translation: The warnings are divine shock value, their consequences mere coercion.”

Wrong. I don’t take the position that God uses coercive methods to preserve his elect.

As I explained at the time, I was examining a coercive model for the sake of argument. An argument from the greater to the lesser.

Libertarians contend that coercion would render warnings meaningless. So the point I was making is that if the warnings are still meaningful even on a coercive interpretation, then they’re meaningful absent coercion. Sorry that J.C. was too obtuse to follow the argument.

“If God's purpose in giving such warnings was to make us live holy unto Him by indicating that if we walk away from Him, He will cast us away, yet you teach a doctrine that states He would never under any circumstance actually do such a thing, then have you not undone the holy fear which God's word was meant to instill in the hearts of His people and again made it of no effect?”

A straw man argument. Calvinism doesn’t take the position that God would never cast us away under any circumstances. The warnings are conditional. If we did such things, God would cast us away.

It’s just that those circumstances will not eventuate. And the warnings are part of what restrains us from doing such things. They serve as a disincentive to apostasy. So the worst-case scenario does not play out—thanks, in part, to the fear of consequences.

It’s easy for Christians to take revelation for granted. After all, we have divine revelation. So we know what’s expected of us.

But suppose we didn’t? We do not enjoy an inborn knowledge of everything that’s expected of us. So we depend on divine revelation to inculcate some of our duties to God and man.

Suppose I don’t know that a certain type of mushroom is poisonous, but you do. So you warn me not to eat that type of mushroom. As a result of your warning, I refrain from eating that type of mushroom.

The warning was hardly superfluous. It furnished me with some important information I wouldn’t otherwise have—information which enabled me to act prudently in that situation.

“The view that the members of Triablogue espouse puts them in a rather awkward position, as when God states 'heed or I shall revoke your part in my kingdom,' their reply is, 'Therefore having our part in God's kingdom revoked is not actually possible under any circumstance by virtue of the fact that God has threatened to do that very thing’.”

This repeats the same mistake. Also, to talk about what’s “actually possible” is slippery, for possibility and actuality are contrary categories.

If something is actual, then it’s possible—but if something is possible, then it’s inactual. It may not yet be actual, or it may never be actual. Indeed, most possibilities remain unexemplified.

“Perhaps as Hays' parallel of stimulus suggests, God preserves the saints by fear of falling away. But if such fear or coercion is His intended purpose in these warnings, then why do Calvinists teach a doctrine that goes directly against any such fear or coercion, which tries to reduce it to no effect in stating that it is not possible for the saints to fall away?”

Notice that J.C. is a one-trick pony. He keeps repeating the same mistakes. But repetition doesn’t make a falsehood any truer.

“ I agree that God does indeed spur we who are His on to glory with warnings, but not with hollow threats of Him committing things He would never actually do based on things He won't let happen.”

J.C. is treating Calvinism as if it were synonymous with fatalism. But in Calvinism, what we do makes a difference, for God often works through means—of which warnings are a case in point.

“So if God's purpose in issuing warnings with the worst possible consequences is to be compared to bogus, yet highly effective road signs, then how is saying 'Don't worry, those signs are feigned, they're just made to scare you, it's not actually possible for you to fall in' not going against that purpose?”

Notice how he always oversimplifies the explanation. To return to my illustration, the road signs would only be bogus if the bridge wasn’t washed out. But if the bridge is, indeed, washed out, and you disregarded the cautionary signage, then your car will plunge into the river below and you will drown. It’s a pity that J.C. can only keep one idea in his head at a time.

“Thus even if fear and coercion unto holiness were the sole intent of the consequences in God's warnings to the saints, the teaching of a doctrine that absolutely no saint can fall away directly contradicts such an intent.”

This is like saying that if I tell you not to eat those mushrooms because you’ll die of food poisoning should you do so, and you refrain from eating them as a result of my advice, then the warning was meaningless.

For J.C., a warning can only be meaningful if it’s ineffective. That’s an odd stipulation.

“The very fact that being cut off from Christ is listed as a consequence for not abiding in Him (which is not an obvious impossibility) suggests its possibility.”

J.C. always poses the alternatives in simplistic terms. “Possible” or “impossible” in what respect? Conditional? Unconditional?

“So if scripture makes it so plain that our perseverance is not dependent upon us in the least.”

Yet another simple-minded formulation. Perseverance involves, among other things, the due use of the means of grace. And God has given his elect a heart to use the means of grace.

“And God cannot fail to uphold His end.”

The means are instrument to the ends.

“Then why would scripture even bring up the contingency of His failure or unfaithfulness?”

Scripture never brings up the contingency of divine infidelity or failure. It does bring up the contingency of human infidelity or failure.

“One need only look at the admonitions in scripture to see what the apostles taught concerning security in Christ; to those engrafted Paul writes, ‘For if God did not spare the natural branches, He may not spare you either’ (Romans 11:21).”

J.C’s attacks systematically miss the mark. They might be valid against the antinomian brand of eternal security you find in some fundamentalist circles. But they’re irrelevant in reference to the doctrine of perseverance. J.C. always lags behind the beat.

“I agree that God does indeed spur we who are His on to glory with warnings, but not with hollow threats of Him committing things He would never actually do based on things He won't let happen.”

To revert to my illustration, suppose I tell my five-year-old not to eat the mushrooms. But, being a five-year-old, he disregards my warning. As he’s about to pluck a poisonous mushroom, I slap his hand.

Does the fact that I won’t let him eat the mushroom render the warning meaningless?

A bare warning may be insufficient for a five-year-old, but the educational process involves a combination of teaching and discipline so that, as a child matures, he no longer needs parental intervention. At that point in his cognitive development he will appreciate the wisdom of the warning and act accordingly.

1 comment:

  1. You know, the argument from JCT is constantly "Well if that's true, then the text is "meaningless." 1. That's an obviously aprioristic argument, not an exegetical argument. JCT, do you actually have any exegetical arguments or not?

    2. He's ruled out any exegetical considerations contrary to this philosophical objection. I'm reminded of Perry Robinson's Orthodox "exegesis." Well, if that's true, then (insert Christological heresy here, however tenuous the connection), ergo, that conclusion can't be true.

    ‘For if God did not spare the natural branches, He may not spare you either’ (Romans 11:21).”

    You know, I'd hoped to take some time away, but it's mistakes like this one that seem to constantly require attention.

    Is JCT illiterate?

    1. The Arminian contention regarding Romans 9 - 11 usually turns on the concept of election of
    groups - in this case Gentiles and Jews.

    2. And the Reformed interpretation of the first part of Romans 9 is that the argument there is individual, but the rest of the argument regards God's election of persons other than Jews as well as the missions mandate.

    3. So, we're in general agreement regarding chapter 11.

    4. So, to make this suddenly about individuals, for JCT, is to disagree with the general exegetical trajectory that Arminians traverse here.

    Here's the context:

    1I say then, God has not rejected His people, has He? May it never be! For I too am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin.

    2God has not rejected His people whom He foreknew Or do you not know what the Scripture says in the passage about Elijah, how he pleads with God against Israel?


    4But what is the divine response to him? "I HAVE KEPT for Myself SEVEN THOUSAND MEN WHO HAVE NOT BOWED THE KNEE TO BAAL."

    5In the same way then, there has also come to be at the present time a remnant according to God's gracious choice.

    6But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise grace is no longer grace.

    7What then? What Israel is seeking, it has not obtained, but those who were chosen obtained it, and the rest were hardened;

    8just as it is written,

    9And David says,

    11I say then, they did not stumble so as to fall, did they? May it never be! But by their transgression salvation has come to the Gentiles, to make them jealous.

    12Now if their transgression is riches for the world and their failure is riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their fulfillment be!

    13But I am speaking to you who are Gentiles. Inasmuch then as I am an apostle of Gentiles, I magnify my ministry,

    14if somehow I might move to jealousy my fellow countrymen and save some of them.

    15For if their rejection is the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead?

    16If the first piece of dough is holy, the lump is also; and if the root is holy, the branches are too.

    17But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, being a wild olive, were grafted in among them and became partaker with them of the rich root of the olive tree,

    18do not be arrogant toward the branches; but if you are arrogant, remember that it is not you who supports the root, but the root supports you.

    19You will say then, "Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in."

    20Quite right, they were broken off for their unbelief, but you stand by your faith Do not be conceited, but fear;

    21for if God did not spare the natural branches, He will not spare you, either.

    What, pray tell, does this have to do with individual salvation.

    In context, the visible nation of Israel is cut off for national apostasy. Paul is warning Gentiles everywhere that they should not look down upon the Jews, because

    a. God is still electing a remnant from Israel.
    b. God didn't have to elect any Gentiles.
    c. The election of large number of Gentiles is purely at God's discretion, making us one covenant community, not two.
    d. If the visible church composed mainly of Gentiles was to fall into general apostasy, it could have equally devestating consequences for all Gentiles,comparable to what has befallen Israel, because, it seems God does take these things into account when electing persons to salvation, eg. because their fathers had acted so egregiously, and because that generation in Paul's day had, in Jesus' day, taken on the curses of the covenant (which included exclusion from it) due an apostate nation when they murdered Jesus ("on us and our children") God had confirmed their decision. Remember, in Jewish thinking one generation was "in the loins" of another,and the older generation could speak for the other as a consequence. The apostasy of Israel as a nation in the first century has appropriately sealed the destiny of their children, giving God good reason to elect from Gentiles,which was,of course, His plan all along.

    And notice the rest of the passage:

    22Behold then the kindness and severity of God; to those who fell, severity, but to you, God's kindness, if you continue in His kindness; otherwise you also will be cut off.

    23And they also, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again.

    "You" corresponds to "them." The referent is plural, not singular, eg. "you" Gentiles, "them," refers to Jews.

    And v. 23, on JCT's Arminian assumptions presents a conundrum. The Hebrews warning passages says the apostate can't return. Here, the opposite would be the case, for "God is able to graft the in again," and, on JCT's own view, being "ungrafted" is "losing one's salvation."

    So which is it? Can that person be "resaved" or not?

    The solution,of course,is simply that this text has nothing to say about the loss of any one person's salvation.