Friday, December 05, 2008

Five Points Compared to a Few Soteriologies

For those interested, I thought it would fun to provide a tableshowing acceptance of TULIP's various petals (T = Total Depravity, U =Unconditional Election, L = Limited Atonement, I = Irresistible Grace,P = Perseverance of the Saints).
Pelagian ES
Arminian ES

There is an asterisk by two items in the Arminian chart. The first asterisk is because many Arminians claim to hold to Total Depravity.What they mean by that is not what Calvinists mean by it, though,hence the asterisk. The second asterisk is because some Arminians reject, some affirm, and some leave open the question of whether true believers persevere. The "ES" stands for "eternal security." Oddly,some Pelagians hold to eternal security.-TurretinFan

Not Something One Would Have Seen in Calvin's Geneva

Vatican politically supports construction of additional mosques in Italy (first link) (second link). One would not see Calvin's Geneva supporting mosque construction. Frankly, I don't think one would even see Leo X (author of Exsurge Domine, against Luther) supporting mosque construction. Who would like to claim that this view expressed by the Vatican is fully consistent with 2000 years of New Testament tradition?


Thursday, December 04, 2008

Calvinism Distinguished Historically

Nomenclature is important. Generally speaking, Calvinism as distinct from Arminianism is the result of the controversy provoked by the Remonstrants and addressed by the Synod of Dordt. People seem to lose site of this important historical concept. This controversy essentially provided a definition of Calvinism as distinct from Arminianism, characterized by five points.

The "five points" were originally brought forth as the five points of the Remonstrants/Arminians, not the five points of Calvinism. Calvin (1509-64) wasn't around for the Arminian controversy, and Arminius himself (1560-1609) was not around for the Synod of Dordt (1618-19).

The Synod of Dordt took what has come to be called the "Calvinist" view. The "Canons of Dordt" (link) never make reference to Calvin, but always to Scripture.

The five main points, or "headings" of the Council of Dordt were:

1) Divine Election and Reprobation
2) Christ's Death and Human Redemption Through It
3 and 4) Human Corruption, Conversion to God, and the Way It Occurs
5) The Perseverance of the Saints

These five points or headings are popularly identified using the acronym TULIP, both because it is a beautiful flower and because it is something of a national symbol for Holland, the place where the controversy took place.

T = Total Depravity
U = Unconditional Election
L = Limited Atonement
I = Irresistible Grace
P = Perseverance of the Saints

Hopefully it is apparent that TULIP does not follow the order of the 5 headings of the Canons of Dordt. The alignment of point to point is as follows:

1 => U
2 => L
3 & 4 => T & I
5 => P

There is an historical sense in which the canons of Dordt may be said to help define what is and what is not Calvinism. This would seem to be the best for understanding the "Continental" brand of Calvinism. In Great Britain and Ireland the definition of what the Reformed view is would come to be known by means of three standards:

I) The Westminster Confession of Faith (1646) (link)
II) The Savoy Declaration (1658) (link)
III) The London Baptist Confession (1689) (link)

These three documents, which largely track one another (with issues relating to Baptism and Church Government being notable points of difference), were not addressed primarily to the Arminian controversy. Nevertheless, these documents were presented with the Arminian controversy already having occurred. Each of these documents rejects the Arminian error in favor of the Calvinistic view. None of these documents, however, specifically designates the "five points."

Nevertheless, the doctrines of total depravity, unconditional election, limited atonement, irresistible grace, and perseverance of the saints are clearly presented in the following sections:

T => WCF Chapter 6, Paragraphs 2-4
U => WCF 3:5
L => WCF 8:8
I => WCF 9:4
P => WCF 17:1

The corresponding sections of the Savoy Declaration and the London Baptist Confession have the same chapter and paragraph number, and generally present the same material, albeit sometimes in a slightly modified/expanded form.

It should be pointed out that while the "five points" are old, the acronym "TULIP" is a more modern development. The earliest reference I've seen to it is a reference in 1913 to a certain Dr. McAfee (apparently a professor of theology) using the acronym. The acronym was intended as a memory aid to recall the five points. It works.

With or without the acronym, the five points have served as a dividing line between Calvinistic monergism and Arminian Synergism. An example from 1700 can be seen in this work by Christopher Ness (link).

Not everyone is happy with this line.

A number of folks reject the doctrine of Limited Atonement, arguing that Christ died not only for the elect, but for each and every person. These folks are generally lumped into the category "Amyraldian" despite various objections as to differences among those who reject Limited Atonement. This group is the one that most dislikes the use of the five points to define Calvinism as distinct from Arminianism.

Some folks in this category have engaged in a campaign to redefine Calvinism away from the five points. Their apparent reason for doing so, is in order to be included under the Calvinistic umbrella. Whatever the reason, their approach has been to try to divide up Calvinism into various camps, from "Low" to "Moderate" and even "High" Calvinism. Worse still, they create a camp of Calvinism that they confusingly label "Hyper-Calvinism."

These divisions are rather artificial, to say the least. There is no major controversy to help make the lines bright, but, instead, the divisions tend to be drawn either along the use of certain buzz-words or minor controversies.

Worse yet, the filling of the ranks of the various divisions is done by the use of quote-mining: taking quotations from various authors and removing them from their historical context. Leading the way, of course, is the quote-mining Calvin himself. Essentially, the program is "Calvin vs. the Calvinists." Despite the fact that Arminius was mere toddler (4 years old) when Calvin died, quotations from Calvin are taken as though spoken in the context of the Arminian controversy.

I've dealt with this anachronistic nonsense in other posts already, and I don't plan to rehash all of that here. The main point to be recognized is that the Calvinism/Arminianism divide is an important one, whereas the "Hyper"/"High"/"Moderate"/"Low" classifications are neither important nor accurate. They are misleading and tend to obscure the important points.

This matter comes to a head under the use of "hyper-Calvinism."

A useful division between Calvinism and Hyper-Calvinism exists when Hyper-Calvinism is differentiated from Calvinism on a substantive line, such as:

1) fatalism;
2) refusal to evangelize;
3) denial of human responsibility; or
4) denial that men have wills or make choices.

These bright line errors are rejections of the Synod of Dordt in the opposite direction of Arminians. These errors are serious, and should be avoided.

Other definitions of "hyper-Calvinism" tend to center around buzz-words. These definitions tend to focus on things like whether or not someone is willing to say that God "loves" the reprobate in some sense or whether God gives "common grace" to the reprobate.

I do think that refusing to use the term "common grace" may be the result of a scruple rather than a legitimate objection. To call them "hyper-Calvinists" is, in my view, an unnecessary offense to the brethren. It is simply a pejorative label. The issue of "common grace" does not relate to the gospel - it does not change the way that the men preach the gospel. Furthermore, it muddies the waters.

Here's a handy way to divide up the three camps:

God's SovereigntyDeniesAffirmsAffirms
Man's ResponsibilityAffirmsAffirmsDenies

Calvinism, as illustrated, is the balanced view between Arminianism and Hyper-Calvinism. It affirms both the real sovereignty of God and the real responsibility of man.

This same chart can be provided another way:

Man's Will Compatible with Divine ForeordinationDeniesAffirmsDenies

In a nutshell, what this chart aims to show is the philosophical dividing line of compatibilism. Compatibilism is the view that both man making choices and God foreordaining what those choices will be are compatible concepts. In essence, both the Arminian and the Hyper-Calvinist agree that they are not compatible concepts. One picks man's will, the other picks divine foreordination.

The recent controversy centered around whether to label the Calvinist, Dr. White, as an "hyper-Calvinist" tends to major on the details, obscuring the larger picture. The larger picture is that Dr. White is a consistent Calvinist who affirms monergism and compatibilism. Dr. White is a Calvinist as it would be defined by the relevant sections of the London Baptist Confession of 1689, identified above.

For all but the most contentious or mischievous people, that should be enough. I can understand Amyraldians feeling excluded from such charts. With respect to the Arminian/Calvinist/Hyper-Calvinist division, Amyraldians would normally fall in the Calvinist camp. The problem with Amyraldianism is that it is internally inconsistent. Whether they feel excluded or not, however, creating confusing and unnecessary divisions of "Calvinism" using buzzwords is not productive and not conducive to edification. I would gently but firmly encourage those who have been doing so, to consider desisting.


The Non-Identity of Peter and the Rock

One verse commonly argued as supporting the papacy is the following:

Matthew 16:18 And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.

One frequent rebuttal of the claim that this verse is stating that the church will be built upon Peter is the fact that although there is some similarity between the Greek words for "Peter" and "rock," nevertheless they are different Greek words.

I've seen a number of attempted counter-arguments from those supporting the papacy (which, in a word, are properly called "papists"). The papists argue:

1) While the words are different words in Greek, the words are the same in Aramaic and Jesus was speaking Aramaic, not Greek. This is the "speculative reconstruction of the original" argument.

This is probably one of the better objections. There are, however, several reasonable rebuttals:

a) We have no good reason to suppose that the statement was made in Aramaic rather than in Greek. In other words, we don't know that the text we have is a translation. Although Jesus doubtless knew Aramaic, nevertheless Greek was also spoken in Judea at the time, and there is no particular reason to favor one language over the other in this instance (aside from wishful thinking on the part of the papists). Since Jesus and his earthly parents had lived in Egypt for a time, it would not have been surprising if they knew Greek - since it was the international language of the day.

b) Even if the original language spoken had been Aramaic, the inspired words penned by Matthew were in Greek. Although a few people have tried to argue that Matthew was originally written in Aramaic, the historical consensus is that the original language was Greek. Furthermore, this historical consensus is confirmed by the translation at Matthew 1:23:

Matthew 1:23 Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.

The provision of this translation provides evidence that the original was Greek. If the original was in Aramaic, there would have been no need to provide a translation of the name "Emmanuel," and there would have been no clue to the translator from Aramaic to Greek to insert such a translation rather than simply transliterating the name.

2) Other times, the papists argue that πετρος (petros = Peter) and πετρα (petra = rock) are used because one is the right word for a man and the other is the right word for a rock. Sometimes this is phrased as saying that Jesus couldn't have called Simon "Petra" because that would have been like calling him "Mary" or some other feminine name. Alternatively, they say that Jesus couldn't have said that he was going to build his church upon "petros" because that wouldn't be the right Greek word for "rock." I call this the "God is boxed-in by Greek" argument.

a) Although this argument may have some appeal, there is an obvious way Jesus could have avoided the Petros/petra distinction. Jesus could have said, "thou art Peter, and upon thee I will build my church." Jesus did not say this. Instead, Jesus said "thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church."

For the "God is boxed-in by Greek" argument to work, one has to speculate that Jesus spoke the first half the sentence to Peter and the second half of the sentence about Jesus - he has to change audiences mid-sentence, even though (as though to avoid the papist misconception) Jesus begins the sentence by saying, "And I say also unto thee." Notice the "thee." That means that he is (again) addressing Peter, just as had been addressing Peter in the previous verse.

With this in mind, the most natural sense of Jesus' words is to understand "this rock" as referring to the same thing as Jesus had already referred to in the previous statement to Peter. Recall that Jesus' first response to Peter was:

Matthew 16:17 And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven.

The word "it" there in the center of the sentence is a word added by the translators to help convey the sense of the sentence. The "it" referenced (implicitly, in the original Greek) is Simon Peter's confession, "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God." This is what was not revealed to Simon Barjona by flesh and blood, but by God the Father. This rock is what the church will be built upon.

Interestingly, even the council of Trent acknowledged this interpretation of the text:
For which cause, this council has thought good, that the Symbol of faith which the holy Roman Church makes use of,--as being that principle wherein all who profess the faith of Christ necessarily agree, and that firm and alone foundation against which the gates of hell shall never prevail,--be expressed in the very same words in which it is read in all the churches.
And again, later:
Let all, therefore, understand, in what order, and in what manner, the said Synod, after having laid the foundation of the Confession of faith, will proceed, and what testimonies and authorities it will mainly use in confirming dogmas, and in restoring morals in the Church.
In both quotations, the emphasis has been added. It is worth noting that Trent foreclosed an argument that the symbol of faith is just one foundation by the use of the word "alone." But I digress.

The key to this first rebuttal is to note that Jesus' use of the third person makes more sense viewed as simply referring to someone other than Peter rather than as an audience switch mid-sentence.

b) In the second place, if Jesus had wanted to use a Greek word that would permit a direct relation between Simon and that upon which the church is built, Jesus could have surnamed him θεμέλιος (themelios = foundation), which is a masculine Greek noun.

What would have been interesting about this word is that in Revelation 21:14 the heavenly city is described has having walls with twelve foundations, in which the names of the twelve apostles are written. Paul likewise describes believers as being built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets. Paul is careful, however, to note that Jesus Christ himself is the chief corner stone. Likewise Peter himself, in exhorting his readers to the desire of the Word of God, states:

1 Peter 2:2-8
2As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby: 3If so be ye have tasted that the Lord is gracious. 4To whom coming, as unto a living stone, disallowed indeed of men, but chosen of God, and precious, 5Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ. 6Wherefore also it is contained in the scripture, Behold, I lay in Sion a chief corner stone, elect, precious: and he that believeth on him shall not be confounded. 7Unto you therefore which believe he is precious: but unto them which be disobedient, the stone which the builders disallowed, the same is made the head of the corner, 8And a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offence, even to them which stumble at the word, being disobedient: whereunto also they were appointed.

Notice that like Paul, Peter points to Jesus himself as the corner stone upon which the church is built. So, although Jesus could have performed a mid-sentence audience shift without introducing a distinction by surnaming Simon Themelios instead of Petros, nevertheless, Jesus did not do so - and Jesus' failure to do so is understandable in view of the other testimony of Scripture above, which describes Jesus as the cornerstone.

In fact, there is an even closer word than Themelios that Jesus could have picked: he could have picked λίθος (lithos - stone). But, again, it is Jesus himself that is the chief corner lithos in those verses above.

c) God is in control of all things. When Jesus wanted to pay the temple tax, he was able to arrange that the first fish Peter caught on a particular occasion would have in its mouth a particular coin that would be sufficient to pay the temple tax for both Peter and Jesus (Matthew 17:24-27). Furthermore, as Moses was reminded:

Exodus 4:11 And the LORD said unto him, Who hath made man's mouth? or who maketh the dumb, or deaf, or the seeing, or the blind? have not I the LORD?

So then, if God had wanted to, God could have arranged the Greek language to avoid the distinction provided in Matthew 16:18, if God had wanted to avoid that distinction. Since the distinction is there, it is reasonable to presume that the distinction is intentional. That is to say, God is not limited by human language.


Wednesday, December 03, 2008

A Natural Progression

It should not come as a complete surprise that "Catholic" schools are aiming to encourage the religious practices of Muslims (link). After all, it has become the view of Catholicism that Muslims worship the same god (link to discussion) - therefore what is the problem with accomodating Muslim worship?


Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Update on Dr. White and God's Desire

On today's Dividing Line radio program, Dr. White provided Tom Ascol's discussion regarding the decrees of God, and the sense in which we can say that God desires that his commands be obeyed. Ascol also apparently noted that repenting and believing are God's commands. Dr. White indicated that he agreed with Ascol's comments. Presumably, this puts to bed any continued assertions that Dr. White denies that repentance and faith are desired by God in the sense of being within God's decretive will, although Dr. White continues to agree with Phil Johnson and others that to use the word "desire" in such limited senses can lead to confusion. Will this satisfy those who have been accusing him? Who knows. I think it may help to persuade some of the more moderate of them.

UPDATE: here is a video clip to watch the statements:


Sola Scriptura Debate Complete

I'm pleased to announce that the very prolonged debate with Matthew Bellisario on Sola Scriptura is now complete (link to debate).


Sunday, November 30, 2008

Seers, Choice, Open Theism, Molinism, and Calvinism

The recent vampire movie, Twilight, contains a cinematic element that is frequently employed: a seer, a character in the movie that can see the future. Most movies that I've seen generally treat the visions of seers in one of two ways:
1) As projections based on a current but mutable stream of events; and
2) As inevitabilities.

Twilight is a type 1 film. The seer in the film is able to see the future, but her visions are subject to change if people make different choices. Other stories employ type 2 seers. An example of such a story is the famous ancient tale of Oedipus. In that story, the king is told that his newborn son will commit various heinous acts. He tries to prevent these acts by leaving the child to death by exposure. However, despite the king's attempts to prevent the inevitable from happening (and, indeed, even in part as a result of the fact that the grown son does not know who his parents are), the seer's vision comes true.

Most people - the average Joe, if you will - would view the type 2 situation as essentially fatalistic. "X" will happen, and there is no way to prevent it from happening. Thus, the average Joe prefers the kind of seer found in Twilight, in which the future is somewhat predictable, but still subject to change at the leisure of the common man.

Now, the charge of "fatalism" to type 2 seers is not necessarily appropriate. Fatalism, properly expressed, views some force as ensuring the important thing seen in the vision, quite without regard to (or perhaps "despite") the way in which the thing comes about. Thus, one could view the chronology of a particular person as a string that is generally loose, but pinned down at one particular point. By their choices, a person can try to to avoid arriving at that particular point, but all they will do is change how they arrive at that point.

To provide a specific example, in a fatalistic outlook, a man be told that he will die in Paris. Consequently, in an attempt to prolong his life, the man may purposely never go to Paris. Nevertheless, fate will bring it about that the man will have a wreck in the French countryside and be airlifted to Paris while unconscious and then die in a Parisian hospital.

The concept of "fate" is not a Christian concept. Christianity does not posit an impersonal force that brings about certain important events essentially in isolation. Instead, Christianity describes a God, who "of him, and through him, and to him, are all things" (Romans 11:36) and "we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose." (Romans 8:28) Thus, Christianity does not view history as a bunch of mostly loose strings pinned down at certain points, but as a tapestry woven together by an Almighty Artist.

Nevertheless, from the standpoint of a person simply learning the seer's vision, the two positions are interchangeable. Unless the seer explains exactly how event "x" will occur, the person listening to the vision cannot distinguish the fatalistic worldview from the Biblical worldview. We see the same thing in Biblical prophecies. For example, the Scriptures clearly teach that Christ will come again in judgment. Still, some people treat that prediction as though it were a fatalistically determined event pinned to the end of the string of history, while others view it as the final act of a most well-written play. It is important to note that either of those views is consistent with the bare prophecy itself.

Reverting for the moment to the type 1 seers, one can see that this form of prognostication is really the only kind fully consistent with view of complete human autonomy. Thus, this view (like modern Arminianism) appeals to the humanistic side of man: the side of man that likes to think that he is the master of his own destiny. It is the view, one might say, of Open Theism. Certain Open Theists would object that God can make fatalistic prognostications, because he can bring about certain outcomes he wants regardless of what happens in the near term. Nevertheless, unless the Open Theist is to deny that God himself has the same kind of autonomy they attribute to man, they must assert that any future prediction that God makes is based on the contingency that he does not decide to do otherwise.

On the other hand, both Molinists and Calvinists acknowledge that God has complete knowledge of the actual future, knowledge that is not subject to being changed. Thus, both Molinist and Calvinist seers see an inevitable future - they fall into the second category.

This may seem a bit odd. Molinism claims to hold to the autonomy of man, and asserts that it holds that man has Libertarian Free Will (LFW). Nevertheless, Molinism also is forced to acknowledge that God's omniscience includes future events, and that consequently, God has advance knowledge of what will be.

There is sometimes an attempt by proponents of Molinism to argue that God's knowledge of the future does not convert to God being a causal influence on the future. While this attempt is doubtless important to the philosophical defense of LFW, it does not address the psychological difficulty that the Average Joe has with what he perceives to be a fatalistic future.

The Average Joe is not fond of the idea that the length of his life is already known and cannot be changed, particularly if that time is short. The idea that the future is - in effect - already written, poses a psychological problem for the autonomous man. If a seer comes to him and says, "You will die in a plan crash tomorrow," you can imagine that the Average Joe would not immediately go and board a plane, but would try to get as far as possible from planes.

Of course, if the seer is a true seer, the event will come to pass. What the Average Joe has overlooked is that the seer has seen what will be, and what will be, will be. What would be more puzzling for the Average Joe is if the seer not only announced the day and means of death, but also all the events leading to that death.

A sufficiently knowledgeable seer could even tell our Average Joe whether Average Joe will like the fact that events will unfold just as the seer said. Imagine yourself in the Average Joe's shoes. One feels a bit helpless knowing what will happen, without being able to bring it about that the seer's prognostication is wrong.

Indeed, between the two extremes of simply knowing the date and manner of death, and knowing every event leading to that death, the Average Joe would really rather not know what will transpire, so that he can maintain the illusion that what will be is not a fixed concept.

One might even note that while knowledge of the day of one's death is useful for planning other things (such as when to write one's will, whether to invest in a long-term investment, or the like), having an exhaustive knowledge of the future doesn't seem to have any particular use from a planning purpose.

From a Molinist standpoint, this result is somewhat paradoxical. Knowledge of the actual future doesn't help one to plan - more importantly it doesn't even help God to plan. Molinists try to avoid the idea that God causes the actual future to be the actual future, but they cannot escape the fact that God has exhaustive knowledge of the actual future.

Calvinism has a ready explanation for this difficulty. God's exhaustive knowledge of the actual future is logically the consequence of God's decision. That is to say, God knows what the actual future is, because he planned it to be that way. The exhaustive knowledge of the actual future is as useless for God's planning purposes as it would be for us. Nevertheless, this is not problematic because the actual future is logically the result of God's plan, not the premise of God's plan.

Molinism relies on this same explanation, but attempts to evade the impact of God's deciding what the future will be, by asserting that God has a special category of knowledge known as "middle knowledge." The basic premise of middle knowledge is that God knows what a particular person would do in a particular situation, prior to God's decision as to what the future will be.

In other posts we have discussed (for example, here) and will discuss how "middle knowledge" is not only an unbiblical concept, but also an incoherent philosophical concept. Suffice to say, however, for the purposes of this article, that whether "middle knowledge" is correct, Molinism does not and cannot escape the "Average Joe" concept of fatalism, since now - after the decree - God has an exhaustive knowledge of the future.

Molinism (like Calvinism) does not permit type 1 seers, and consequently movies like Twilight should be recognized as portraying a mistaken (albeit) popular view of "free will" in contrast either to LFW of Molinism or the simple Calvinistic model of free will.