Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Axe, Saw, and Staff Theology

Calvinism is sometimes accused of turning men into robots or puppets. Scoffers refer to Calvinism as "puppet theology" or "robot theology." One way to respond to this is by trying to explain to the critics that Calvinism teaches that men have wills and make choices. There's nothing wrong with that approach. However, another approach that may help the person to think is to say that robots and puppets aren't the best analogy - the best analogy is that Calvinism turns men into axes, saws, and staves. If it is degrading to humanity to be compared to a puppet or robot (which are, at least, made after the image and likeness of man) how much more insulting it is to be compared to a stick with a blade at the end or simply to a serrated blade or bare stick!

Isaiah 10:12-15
Wherefore it shall come to pass, that when the Lord hath performed his whole work upon mount Zion and on Jerusalem, I will punish the fruit of the stout heart of the king of Assyria, and the glory of his high looks. For he saith,
By the strength of my hand I have done it, and by my wisdom; for I am prudent: and I have removed the bounds of the people, and have robbed their treasures, and I have put down the inhabitants like a valiant man: and my hand hath found as a nest the riches of the people: and as one gathereth eggs that are left, have I gathered all the earth; and there was none that moved the wing, or opened the mouth, or peeped.
Shall the axe boast itself against him that heweth therewith? or shall the saw magnify itself against him that shaketh it? as if the rod should shake itself against them that lift it up, or as if the staff should lift up itself, as if it were no wood.

Yes, even wicked men are tools in the hand of God. That is the way that God's sovereignty works. If you don't like it, and you think it degrades humanity, your problem is not with some 16th century Frenchman but with the Scriptures written thousands of years (about 2300 years) before him. That doesn't mean that men don't have wills and make choices, but it does mean that men should recognize their role in the grand scheme of things: not as the deciders of history but the actors of it.

-TurretinFan

33 comments:

Ryan said...

Good point. I usually use the "emotions, feelings, intellects, and wills" approach, but yours seems more effective.

Rhology said...

You're a jerk, TurretinFan.
Ergo, your arguments are no good.

QED.

Strong Tower said...

Make me an instrument...

As a worship leader in Arminian churches, looking back, we had an impressive array of songs that asked God to pull the strings.

natamllc said...

I will interpret Rhology, "jerk":::>

"TF, your words tried me like the axe and a saw and a rod! There was and still is something to chop of me, cut off me and beat from me! Thanks!"

Pro 9:1 Wisdom has built her house; she has hewn her seven pillars.
Pro 9:2 She has slaughtered her beasts; she has mixed her wine; she has also set her table.
Pro 9:3 She has sent out her young women to call from the highest places in the town,
Pro 9:4 "Whoever is simple, let him turn in here!" To him who lacks sense she says,
Pro 9:5 "Come, eat of my bread and drink of the wine I have mixed.
Pro 9:6 Leave your simple ways, and live, and walk in the way of insight."
Pro 9:7 Whoever corrects a scoffer gets himself abuse, and he who reproves a wicked man incurs injury.
Pro 9:8 Do not reprove a scoffer, or he will hate you; reprove a wise man, and he will love you.
Pro 9:9 Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be still wiser; teach a righteous man, and he will increase in learning.
Pro 9:10 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.

Turretinfan said...

Please interpret Rhology's comment as a joke, NatAmLLC. At least, I think he was joking.

beowulf2k8 said...

The best way for a Calvinist to deal with it is by ceasing to be a Calvinist and finally becoming a Christian.

Turretinfan said...

b2k8: That kind of comment just shows us that you don't think Calvinists are Christians. It doesn't really add any value to the discussion.

Rhology said...

You say that like you're surprised he didn't add sthg to the convo.

beowulf2k8 said...

A bunch of Calvinists chanting "God is the author of evil" isn't really a conversation. Its more like a blasphemy fest.

Turretinfan said...

b2k8:

You either need to read more carefully, or accept Isaiah as God's word. I'm not sure which of those two problems is leading you to falsely accuse us of blasphemy, but I hope you will correct the problem from your side.

-TurretinFan

beowulf2k8 said...

What leads me to assert the truth that you are blasphemers is the fact that you are. Or maybe you're just Jews, even Pharisees. You're not Christians.

Turretinfan said...

It is you, b2k8, who rejects the Word of God.

Alphonsus said...

"Yes, even wicked men are tools in the hand of God. That is the way that God's sovereignty works."

Why not cheer on Shea, Beckwith and all those other Catholic apologists, then? Doesn't God want them to spread their religion and attack Calvinism?

Turretinfan said...

If you would cheer on the Roman soldiers who were crucifying Christ (since it was manifestly the will of the Father that Christ die), then by all means cheer on those men as well.

Alphonsus said...

"If you would cheer on the Roman soldiers who were crucifying Christ (since it was manifestly the will of the Father that Christ die), then by all means cheer on those men as well."

According to your understanding of the issue, it seems like it would be warranted. You didn't address my point. Why do you act as if Shea or Beckwith are wrong if they are simply fulfilling God's decree of what they are supposed to do. You're not an Arminian or Congruist, are you?

Turretinfan said...

Alphonsus:

"According to your understanding of the issue"

Is it your understanding of the issue that that the Father didn't want Christ crucified or that the Father did want Christ crucified?

-TurretinFan

Alphonsus said...

"Is it your understanding of the issue that that the Father didn't want Christ crucified or that the Father did want Christ crucified?"

The issue I was referring to was that of grace and free will.

Another, perhaps more fundamental, question:
Does God want men to sin?

Turretinfan said...

Was it a sin to crucify Christ?

Alphonsus said...

"Was it a sin to crucify Christ?"

Yes, but I'm not working out of your theological system.

Now I'll repeat my earlier, more immediately relevant question: Does God want men to sin or not?

Furthermore, if He doesn't want men to sin, why doesn't His decree prevent humans from sinning? If he does want men to sin, why does he punish sinners for obeying His decree?

Turretinfan said...

"Yes, but I'm not working out of your theological system.

Now I'll repeat my earlier, more immediately relevant question: Does God want men to sin or not?"

Recall that I had asked: "Is it your understanding of the issue that that the Father didn't want Christ crucified or that the Father did want Christ crucified?"

I think you know that the answer is that Father wanted it. If so, then it would seem to follow that God wanted men to sin.

-TurretinFan

Alphonsus said...

"If so, then it would seem to follow that God wanted men to sin."

Then why does he punish them? What about 1 Tim. 2:3-4 and 2 Pet. 3:9?

Turretinfan said...

"Then why does he punish them?"

Because evil deeds of wicked men, even though ordained by God, merit punishment.

"What about 1 Tim. 2:3-4 and 2 Pet. 3:9?"

What about them?

Alphonsus said...

"Because evil deeds of wicked men, even though ordained by God, merit punishment."

If such wickedness is so repulsive to God, why doesn't He simply decree that men not sin? What is stopping Him?

1 Tim. 2:3-4:
"This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth." (NIV)

2 Pet. 3:9:
"The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance." (NIV)

If these are accurate statements about God, why doesn't God decree that all men be saved?

Turretinfan said...

"If such wickedness is so repulsive to God, why doesn't He simply decree that men not sin? What is stopping Him?"

Nothing is stopping him from decreeing that men do not sin. So, I guess it is not "so repulsive" in the sense that you intend.

1 Tim. 2:3-4:
"This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth." (NIV)

2 Pet. 3:9:
"The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance." (NIV)

If these are accurate statements about God, why doesn't God decree that all men be saved?

He does. The problem is that you haven't properly understood what is meant by "all men" in those verses.

Alphonsus said...

"Nothing is stopping him from decreeing that men do not sin."

So God commands men to sin and then punishes them for doing what he made then do? If sin isn't offensive to God, why is it a damnable crime?

'The problem is that you haven't properly understood what is meant by "all men" in those verses.'

Please enlighten me then. "All men" seems like a fairly staightforward category. Of course, I guess those verses just aren't perspicuous...

Turretinfan said...

"So God commands men to sin and then punishes them for doing what he made then do?"

He commands them not to sin. He ordains that they will sin. They do so freely, though according to his foreordination.

"If sin isn't offensive to God, why is it a damnable crime?"

It is an offense to God, but not in the way that you seem to suppose.

"Please enlighten me then. "All men" seems like a fairly staightforward category."

If it is understood within the category of the elect, it has the straightforward sense you understand though not the extent that you seem to have previously assumed. Keep in mind that one needs to consider the context of a statement, to see what group the "all" refers to.

"Of course, I guess those verses just aren't perspicuous..."

There are many verses that are less clear than other verses. If you don't understand the doctrine of perspicuity, there's a post for that.

-TurretinFan

Alphonsus said...

"He commands them not to sin. He ordains that they will sin. They do so freely, though according to his foreordination."

If he wants them to sin, why does he command them not to? How can they be culpable for something God ordained them to do? Culpability normally involves some sense that the person could have chosen otherwise.

"If it is understood within the category of the elect, it has the straightforward sense you understand though not the extent that you seem to have previously assumed."

Why should I understand these statements in such a narrow way. The context does not seem to suggest such readings, so your interpretation, to me at least, seems a bit Procrustian.

Turretinfan said...

"If he wants them to sin, why does he command them not to?"

I'm not sure why you see a conflict between the two. Perhaps you're failing to see that God's commands relate to the moral law, whereas his decrees relate to His providence. Let's give you an example of God wanting men to sin and commanding them not to. God commanded men not to kill an innocent man. However, God wanted Jesus to be crucified. Do you see that as a conflict also?

"How can they be culpable for something God ordained them to do?"

Why wouldn't they be? They did what was wrong.

"Culpability normally involves some sense that the person could have chosen otherwise."

Culpability actually normally involves an absence of coercion. However, no one coerces the wicked to sin.

"Why should I understand these statements in such a narrow way."

To provide an example, in the second case the phrase (a sentence in the NIV) is "He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance." In that sentence it should be apparent that the "all" is in reference to "you."

"The context does not seem to suggest such readings, so your interpretation, to me at least, seems a bit Procrustian."

Beaten gold shines the brightest.

Alphonsus said...

"God commanded men not to kill an innocent man. However, God wanted Jesus to be crucified."

That example misses the point entirely. Jesus died to redeem sinners. What sense would the crucifixtion make unless men had already committed sins?

"Culpability actually normally involves an absence of coercion. However, no one coerces the wicked to sin."

Who created their wicked intentions, if not God? If I make a car that breaks down after 5 miles, is it the car's fault or mine? Are people any freer from God, in your understanding, than that car is from me?

'To provide an example, in the second case the phrase (a sentence in the NIV) is "He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance." In that sentence it should be apparent that the "all" is in reference to "you."'

And yet the sentence makes just as much sense if "anyone" and "everyone" are interepreted according to their plain menaing. Also, this passage comes right after Timothy asks that his readers say prayers and intercede for everyone.

I don't have a Greek text at hand, but I would be interested to know if the "you" was plual or singular. Either way, it doesn't refute my interpretation, but if it were singular it would seem to undermine the Calvinist one.

Turretinfan said...

"That example misses the point entirely. Jesus died to redeem sinners. What sense would the crucifixtion make unless men had already committed sins?"

It would make no sense. You might think the example misses the point, but I think there is a reason you didn't answer my question.

"Who created their wicked intentions, if not God?"

God cursed Adam, yes, as a judgment for his sin. Are you going to reject the doctrine of original sin too?

"If I make a car that breaks down after 5 miles, is it the car's fault or mine?"

A car breaking down is never the "fault" of a car.

"Are people any freer from God, in your understanding, than that car is from me?"

Much less free. God is much more sovereign over his creation than we are over ours.

"And yet the sentence makes just as much sense if "anyone" and "everyone" are interepreted according to their plain menaing."

Uh... is your argument really that the sentence makes "just as much sense" when it is interpreted differently than the author intended?

"Also, this passage comes right after Timothy asks that his readers say prayers and intercede for everyone."

"This passage" you refer to must be the passage from Paul's letter to Timothy, not Peter's letter (which I discussed above). In Paul's letter to Timothy he is speaking about praying for all kinds of people, not about trying to pray one's way through the 1st century phone book.

"I don't have a Greek text at hand, but I would be interested to know if the "you" was plual or singular."

It is plural.

"Either way, it doesn't refute my interpretation, but if it were singular it would seem to undermine the Calvinist one."

LOL

-TurretinFan

Alphonsus said...

"In Paul's letter to Timothy he is speaking about praying for all kinds of people, not about trying to pray one's way through the 1st century phone book."

Sorry if I wasn't clear earlier. I tended to write between errands, so sometimes weird errors slip in. Anyway, if I said "pray for everyone," that would seem to have a fairly starighforward meaning, i.e. prayer for every person. You wouldn't need a "phone book" because you wouldn't be praying for every single person by name, just as when a person "prays for the troops" they don't need a list of every serviceman. Haven't you ever prayed for a group?

"Much less free. God is much more sovereign over his creation than we are over ours."

If we are much less free than an automobile, how can we be morally culpable?

'Uh... is your argument really that the sentence makes "just as much sense" when it is interpreted differently than the author intended?'

By bringing in "intention," aren't you moving away from the whole "Sola Scriptura" thing? It's not like you're a mind reader. Anyway, the statement in 1 Tim. when read in the context of the letter, seems to indicate that God, in some sense, desires that everyone be saved. You seem to be applying a Calvinist hermeneutic to the text, giving the letter a sense that conflicts with the plain words.

"Are you going to reject the doctrine of original sin too?"

All I'm rejecting is your system of grace and double predestination. My problem is with the theology that you're presenting.

"LOL"

Note, I did not make my position conditional on "you" being plural. I still think your interpretation is unsupported by the Timothy passage.

Turretinfan said...

"Anyway, if I said "pray for everyone," that would seem to have a fairly starighforward meaning, i.e. prayer for every person."

In context, that's definitely not what Paul means. He means to pray for specific rulers.

"If we are much less free than an automobile, how can we be morally culpable?"

Why should the two be at odds? Do you think that simply because no one is able to resist God's predestining decree they shouldn't be subject to the moral law?

"By bringing in "intention," aren't you moving away from the whole "Sola Scriptura" thing?"

No.

"It's not like you're a mind reader."

One doesn't have to be one of those to discern authorial intent from the text.

"Anyway, the statement in 1 Tim. when read in the context of the letter, seems to indicate that God, in some sense, desires that everyone be saved. You seem to be applying a Calvinist hermeneutic to the text, giving the letter a sense that conflicts with the plain words."

That's just a description of what you are currently feeling. It's not a response to any of the explanation I've given. Using the context to interpret a text is not a uniquely Calvinistic hermeneutic.

I asked: "Are you going to reject the doctrine of original sin too?"

You responded: "All I'm rejecting is your system of grace and double predestination."

Is that a "yes" or a "no"? It's hard for me to tell.

"My problem is with the theology that you're presenting."

Unfortunately, your problem is not well grounded, as I've tried to demonstrate.

"Note, I did not make my position conditional on "you" being plural."

Exactly! Hence my chuckle.

"I still think your interpretation is unsupported by the Timothy passage."

I still note that I actually began by presenting an explanation of the Peter passage, which you seem to have conflated with the Timothy passage.

I don't claim to derive my views about predestination etc. from the Timothy text, but I've pointed out to you how the Timothy (and Peter) texts can be understood harmoniously with the Calvinist view.

You haven't shown that the interpretations of those texts are unreasonable. In fact, you've primarily argued simply that you think your reading of them (which largely ignores the context) is better or perhaps easier.

Even if your reading were easier, that wouldn't really bother us.

Alphonsus said...

"In context, that's definitely not what Paul means. He means to pray for specific rulers."

Whether it means rulers only is the question. Secondly, why should I limit the everyone of 1 Tim. 2:3-4?

'Is that a "yes" or a "no"? It's hard for me to tell.'

That's a no.

"Why should the two be at odds? Do you think that simply because no one is able to resist God's predestining decree they shouldn't be subject to the moral law?"

If the moral law actually reflects what God wants people to do, how could it conflict with his declarations about what, de facto, will happens?

About the 2 Peter passage, sorry if there was some confusion. As I said, I'm sort of doing responses on the fly. Anyway, how do you combine double predestination with passages like Ezekiel 18:23?