Saturday, September 15, 2007

First Rebuttal in Monergism Debate

The soteriology (monergism vs. synergism) debate (link) is progressing. Matt has now provided his introduction (link), and I am providing a rebuttal to it.

The reader may recall that the present author had previously summarized Monergism as:

"God's grace ensures the salvation of those upon whom God chooses to bestow grace."

Matt has countered by defining Monergism as:

"God has made salvation guaranteed for those he has chosen, having already determined who will perish."

Matt's modification contains a subtle shift that was perhaps not intended, and so the present author would like to address a potential misconception. Monergism teaches that salvation is all the work of God. Monergism does not teach the reverse, that perdition is also all the work of God. Instead, Monergism asserts that perdition is the work of man. Monergism denies "works salvation" but teaches "works perdition." Those who perish do so by their own "merit." (Adam earned death for himself and his children, but Christ earned life for his brethren.)

Specifically, mankind earns perdition by sinning, for as Scripture teaches:

Romans 6:23 For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Monergism adopts the asymmetry of Romans 6:23, teaching that perdition is merited, and eternal life is given gratuitously to those upon whom God chooses to bestow favor.

The effect, of course, is that those whom God passes over for eternal life receive what they deserve. Consequently, the point that God's decree determines (albeit negatively) who will perish is not entirely wrong - we certainly would not say that the destiny of the reprobate is uncertain. Nevertheless, the way of expressing that fact as "having already determined who will perish," would seem to be slightly off the mark. Furthermore, some monergists (sublapsarians) would explicitly hold that God first decreed to permit all men to fall, and then decreed to save some. Perhaps, however, that level of detail may be rendered superfluous by consideration of the three questions asked.

To set the stage for the three questions, Matt posed the following hypothetical scenario:
Two boys each have an inflatable raft and a group of kittens which they place into their respective rafts, which are in turn placed into a river. The first boy ties a string to some of the kittens. The second boy uses a plank to create a bridge between the raft and the shore. Both sets of kittens poke holes in their rafts, causing them to begin sinking.
The first question follows.

1.) Assuming there is a very good reason for kittens to be in a raft, is either boy justified in putting more kittens on his sinking raft?

This question is a bit puzzling, because it is unclear whether the "very good reason" extends to rafts in general or to a sinking raft in particular. If the latter, then it seems that the question answers itself: if there is a very good reason, that very good reason would seem to be the justification. If the former, then the answer would seem to be: "it depends." Specifically, it depends on whether this "very good reason" is negated in any way by the fact that these particular rafts are sinking.

For example, if the kittens are being placed into the raft because they love floating about the pond, then the fact that the rafts are sinking would negate that reason. If, on the other hand, the kittens are being placed into the raft because there is a fox on shore that will eat them immediately otherwise, well then perhaps there is still justification - as they will live a little longer in a sinking raft than on the land.

Perhaps this question could be clarified.

The present author supposes that the question may be aimed at the general idea of putting someone into harm's way. Normally (in the absence of justification) we are not permitted to do that to other people. Hopefully this answers the question, but Matt should feel free to clarify in his first rebuttal.

The second question was:

2.) The first boy rescues kittens by pulling on their string and dragging them to shore. The second boy rescues kittens by laying treats along the plank, by coaxing them, and by throwing down additional planks for any kittens who are seeking to escape the raft. Both boys save some kittens and not others. Which boy behaved more appropriately? Why?

Again, the question might seem to require a bit of clarification as to the foregoing issue of the very good reason for putting the kittens in the raft in the first place.

The determination of the correct answer to (2) will depend on whether the boys (either or both of them) had a duty to rescue the kittens. If the boys have a duty to rescue the kittens (either because they unjustifiably put the kittens in harm's way, or because they have some kind of general duty to rescue others), then it would seem that the more active attempt at rescuing the kittens would be more appropriate.

There is a bit of twist, though, because there is an open question about whether the string-pulling boy could have pulled all the strings. If he could have, and didn't, and if he had a duty to save as many as he could, then his passing over some of the kittens would seem to be unjust.

Likewise the plank-laying boy would have to be judged according to whether such an approach is a reasonable approach for getting kittens off a sinking raft. In other words, while simply passing over some kittens that the first boy had a duty to save would be bad, it would be worse for the other boy to leave it up to the kittens, if he had a good reason to expect that such an approach would not be successful.

Before a counter-examples are provided, let's address the third question:

3.) You're a kitten. Which raft would you rather be on?

If I were aware of the danger, I'd prefer the raft where I could exert my own effort rather than leaving my salvation from the raft up to the string-pulling boy. If I were unaware of the danger but hungry - probably still the plank raft. If I were neither aware of the danger nor hungry, in hindsight I'd prefer to be on the string-pulling raft.


1) The Rich Man

A certain rich man has a large family and a beautiful house. One day, when the man is away taking care of some business, five thieves break into the house, plunder its goods, torture and kill the man's family, and finally burn down his house. Their crime spree, however, is cut short when the men are caught by the authorities.

Suppose that despite all that the five thieves did wrong, the rich man decides to help two of the five thieves in their criminal defense. He hires them the best lawyer, and pleads for mercy to the judge on their behalf, even offering to serve their prison time or receive capital punishment in their place.

Has the man acted unjustly because he has only assisted two of the five, while permitting the others to receive what they richly deserve? Is such an act "cruel" of the rich man? Surely not.

2) The Potter

A certain potter goes out and finds a large clump of clay. He brings it back to his shop and makes from it four pieces. One piece is a beautiful vase, which the potter then paints in gold leaf and enamel and places in his front hall to be shown off for its beauty.

A second part of the lump is used to make a frame for one of the potter's favorite photos. This frame is given little ornamentation, and no gold leaf.

With a third part of the lump, the potter makes a chamber-pot. This too he paints, but mostly to keep its surface smooth so that it can serve its purpose by his bed at night.

Finally, the potter makes from the fourth part of the lump a small disk to be used as a clay pigeon. He does not paint this piece, but leaves it unornamented.

Has the potter been unjust or cruel toward any of the parts of the lump? Does any of the parts of the lump have the right to complain that they were not treated fairly? Is the potter "cruel" towards the clay? Surely not!

3) Two Kittens

Suppose that there are two kittens in a sinking raft. One kitten is given the choice about whether to stay in the raft or go, and the other kitten is pulled out of the sinking raft by the scruff of the neck. Which kitten would you rather be? Surely the latter.

Suppose again that there are two kittens in a raft but that, rather than gradually sinking, the raft is about to be hit be a torpedo. Suppose also that the kittens cannot appreciate the danger the torpedo poses. Would you, as a kitten, prefer a boy who simply tells you about the torpedo and tries to persuade you of the danger, or a boy who grabs you by the scruff of the neck and pulls you to safety? Surely the latter.

4) Two Lifeguards

Suppose you develop a cramp while swimming. Would would you prefer a lifeguard who merely makes your rescue possible, or a lifeguard that grabs out of the water and administers CPR? Surely the latter.

The point of these four counter examples is this:

1) We all richly deserve to perish. We are not fuzzy innocent kittens that someone else has placed in harm's way. We have harmed the rich man, he has not harmed us.

2) God could have made us all for the purpose of having lives of suffering and destruction, without being unjust or cruel. The potter could have operated a clay pigeon factory, or a chamber pot assembly line. It was his clay to do with as he pleased.

3) It is better to be saved without dignity than to perish with dignity. Better a living dog than a dead lion.

4) A savior that saves is better than a savior that merely makes salvation possible. A lifeguard who wants to save tries hard.

Thus, contrary to Matt's assertions, the present author suggests that monergism presents God as powerful and man as weak, but not God as cruel or unjust. Monergism also does not teach that men are bound for eternal damnation "regardless of their choices," but as a punishment for their sin. Monergism teaches works-perdition. Monergism also teaches that men freely choose to rebel against God. The destruction of mankind is caused by the choice of mankind. Salvation of the elect, however, is caused by a choice of God.

Contrary to apparent implicit assertions of Matt (perhaps unintended and colored by the present author's previous interactions with other synergists), God does not have the same relationship to us as we do to our fellow men, or even as we do to little kittens. Instead, God's relationship to mankind is more like the relationship between a Potter and Clay.

God did not have a duty to prevent man from sinning in the first place, and God does not have a duty to rescue mankind from the effects of sin. Consequently, there is nothing unjust or cruel about God choosing to turn some from destruction and leave others on that path.

Matt makes one claim in particular that seems to this author to betray a mistaken assumption about God's duty to man. Matt writes: "Since God is the sole determiner of whether or not a person is created, if God is also the sole determiner of that [person's] eternal state, then justice demands that God saves all those he creates." Justice demands only that people receive what they deserve. No sinner deserves salvation, and all men freely sin. Instead, sinners deserve eternal condemnation. Thus, what justice requires is that all men be eternally condemned.

The gospel is about another way for justice to be satisfied, namely by the substitutionary death of Christ. Christ died to satisfy God's justice and reconcile God to those who Christ represented as federal head. Christ standing in someone's place is gratuitous, and based on love by Christ for that person, not based on that person deserving or meriting escape from judgment in any way.

Even if the synergists were correct about how salvation is administered, God could have permitted all mankind to perish, without making a way of escape possible. It seems hard to believe that Matt would deny such a fact. If he does not deny that, however, it seems as though the remainder of his argument for eliminating monergism unravels. If God does not have to save anyone, then how God chooses to save people is completely up to Him: he could do so out of pre-love (monergism's explanation), arbitrarily (the usual misrepresentation of monergism), or any other way. No matter which way he picks, he is neither cruel nor unjust. In fact, no matter which way he picks he is kind and merciful.

Now, Matt has not presented a positive case for synergism, but let's flip the tables a bit, and take a shot across synergism's bow.

P1) Let us suppose that God wants to save at least some people, and that this was God's purpose in sending Jesus Christ into the world.

P2) Let us further suppose that God wants to save this group of at least some people on the basis of his love for them.

Scripture seems to teach both of those propositions quite clearly. In fact, many (probably most) synergists take the position that God wants to save not only some, but all people. Furthermore, most synergists will attribute this desire to God's love, not - in any way - to God's justice.

If, however, those to propositions are true, something has to give. Because from those two premises, we can conclude:

C1) God will exercise His power to save those whom he loves and wants to save. (By coupling those premises with the idea that God's intent is sincere.)
C2) God's exercise of His power will succeed in its intended purpose. (By coupling those premises and C1 with the idea that God is omnipotent.)
C3) All whom God wants to save, will be saved. (By coupling C2 and P1, with the result of universal salvation of those whom God intends to save.)

Although it is not required as essential to synergism, synergism usually arises from an attempt to explain verses that appear (to some) to suggest that God wants to save each and every person. In essence, synergism denies C2 above. It states that God exercises His power by sending Christ to die and giving prevenient grace, but denies that God's exercise of power will fully succeed. Alternatively, sometimes synergism argues that God has other competing intents besides saving everyone, and that these other intents prevent God from fully exercising His power.

Neither of the two options provided in order to bolster synergism are supported by Scripture. Instead, the former is positively at odds with the doctrine of divine omnipotence, and the latter is special pleading and also tends to undermine the alleged love of God toward those whom He wants to save.

To illustrate: consider a sinking raft full of kittens. Suppose that a boy claims to love the kittens very much and to desire their salvation from drowning. Nevertheless, suppose that the boy (a) does not exercise all his power to save them or (b) exercises all his power, and nevertheless some kittens drown. In situation (a), we would question the strength and sincerity of the boy's love or desire to save the kittens. In situation (b), we would chalk up the boy's failure to save all the kittens to a lack of ability: i.e. to the boy's impotence.

In essence, in the absence of universal salvation, those are the choices provided to a synergist who (like the typical synergist) asserts that God loves and desires to save each and every person. So, that should be the counter-question:

Matt, in your view of synergism, is God unable or merely unwilling to save everyone?

Let me be clear about something, monergism asserts that God is not willing (unconditionally) to save each and every person, but that God instead has mercy on whom He will have mercy. The point is not that monergism provides a way to reconcile God's universal desire to save with a limited number of people actually being saved, but that synergism's primary raison d'etre is false: the only escape from an assertion that God is unwilling to save each and every person, is that God is unable to save each and every person, and that assertion denies God's omnipotence.


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