Re-reading Bondage of the Will

In 2003 I read Luther’s Bondage of the Will.  It was an exciting time.  I had been introduced to Reformed theology, logic, and apologetics.  I was at a liberal Baptist university.  The battle lines were drawn.  As I am rereading it, I am looking at the notes I made in the margin.  I don’t know if I should cringe or chuckle.  I was a young apologist.   Truth be told, I doubt I remember much from it.

When I was reading the church fathers intensely from 2009-2012, I came across (and no doubt spouted) arguments that Luther’s view was Manicheanism, against the fathers, novel, etc.  Let’s pretend that charge is true for a moment.   A sharp opponent could then respond, “Okay, so what do you make of Romans 8:29 and 9:11ff?”  To which I would say, “Oh, the text can’t mean that.”  Why not?  Did God fashion my senses in such a way that the words don’t mean what the words mean?

And that was the problem I kept facing:  I might know all these sharp philosophical reductios, but old Aunt Flossy doesn’t give a damn about any of them.  99% of the world can’t follow that logic (which might be their fault).  This meant, that my fine anti-Luther, anti-Calvinist arguments were useless to anyone who hadn’t had a graduate course in medieval philosophy.  Here is what they did understand, though (even if they rejected it):  predestination matters.   Like it or not, people are asking questions about predestination and prayer, not about the monotheletic implications of manichean belief.

I understand the guys at OrthodoxBridge are currently working through this topic, but I won’t be commenting there.  It will end up being 15 vs 1 again, and when they start seeing s

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20 comments on “Re-reading Bondage of the Will

  1. DCF says:

    (Did you mean to end the article like that?)

    OK, I’ll bite.

    “Did God fashion my senses in such a way that the words don’t mean what the words mean?”

    Are you suggesting that your first glance look at a text that is 2000 years old, from a man who had a completely different worldview than you do, is supposed to be more trustworthy than those who interpreted it completely un-Calvinistically, whose language, thoughts, geography, and piety were far, far closer to the mind of St Paul? Really? In case you hadn’t noticed, most non-Orthodox Christians aren’t double predestinarian Calvinists. This comment is question begging, pure and simple. Could you be wrong about “what the words mean?”

    “Like it or not, people are asking questions about predestination and prayer, not about the monotheletic implications of manichean belief.”

    Are you suggesting that the Orthodox vis a vis the Calvinists are the ones who over-intellectualize the Christian life? My experience sure has been the opposite. Protestants who become Orthodox don’t generally do it because they struggled with Luther’s monotheletic and manichean tendencies (though some smart ones might). In fact, once curious protestants actually experience Orthodox prayer and worship, it is very hard for them to return to four bare walls and a lecture. Yes, people ask questions about predestination and prayer…and? I will admit, Orthodox apologists who constantly use the “this is what’s wrong with the west” type argumentation to refute everything non-Orthodox gets old fast. Got it. But pointing that out doesn’t refute it.

    http://www.orthodox-christianity.com/2012/08/the-true-beauty-of-romans-9/

    I want to ask you something. When really smart people, especially philisophically minded ones, start philosophizing themselves right out of the Christian faith, what are they doing? Here is what I think they’re doing: they’re being cowardly. They write and write and think and think and come up with all these incredibly nuanced and erudite arguments against this that or the other having to do with the Trinity, or the two natures of Christ, or predestination (as understood by Augustinians), or the problem of evil, etc. When all they’re really doing is masking the fact that they don’t believe Jesus rose from the dead. That’s it. If Christ rose from the dead, then THAT fact demands, compels us even, to subordinate all our thinking and living to it. Jay Dyer’s objections be damned.

    Here’s why I bring this up, and I’ll be honest, I’ve been reading some at Drake Shelton’s blog, especially his anti-EO stuff, this “104 philisophical reasons why I’m not Orthodox” type stuff is masking the simple fact that he (and I have nothing against DS by the way, I don’t know the guy from Adam and he seems extremely intelligent and well read and I applaud his (and your) devotion to learning) and now it seems, you (you might not see it but your posts now are vastly different than just a few months ago) are just rationalizing/masking the fact that you want to read the Bible (the concept of which is new but I digress) the way you want to read it. I.e. not subordinate to the Church. What are you doing when you “accept” the anti-filioquism of the Orthodox Church but “reject” its teaching on other things? Like its teaching on itself for instance? Who has the authority here? I’ll steal from Fr Seraphim Rose: when I became Orthodox, I crucified my hermeneutical authority and submitted everything, EVERYTHING, to the body of Christ–the Church. I have never seen a protestant anti-Orthodox argument not be reducible to this fact: I retain ultimate Scriptural interpretive authority.

    You know me well enough to know I don’t mean anything if I was too blunt. Look forward to hearing from you. Be well.

    • olivianus says:

      DCF

      “are just rationalizing/masking the fact that you want to read the Bible (the concept of which is new but I digress) the way you want to read it.”

      >>>This is such a meaningless tautology. Basically what you are saying is that your private judgment to choose one infallible institution that demands its people believe a certain way as opposed to other so-called infallible institutions, is a better private judgment than a Protestants reading of the Bible and Church history. I have publicly espoused documents out of the first six ecumenical councils and other church courts in Scotland. What argument you are trying to make escapes me.

      “I.e. not subordinate to the Church”

      >>>That is what the Romanists say about you.

      “when I became Orthodox, I crucified my hermeneutical authority”

      BS. The reason you became orthodox is precisely because you didn’t crucify your hermeneutical authority. I have a question for you, how would you convince someone in the Romanist Church to disavow the Roman Church’s hermeneutical authority, and accept the Eastern Orthodox Church’s hermeneutical authority?

      • DCF says:

        Hello Drake,

        —-“This is such a meaningless tautology.” No. It actually isn’t. But I’ll not continue down this road right now.

        —-“Basically what you are saying is that your private judgment to choose one infallible institution that demands its people believe a certain way as opposed to other so-called infallible institutions, is a better private judgment than a Protestants reading of the Bible and Church history.”

        I am surprised to hear you actually pull the old tu quo que card out, all battered and beaten as it is. I don’t disagree that the protestant who becomes Orthodox uses private judgement. That’s not actually the crux of the matter. The Protestant who reads his bible and his theology books and moves around from denom. to denom. is NOT doing the same thing as the Protestant who becomes Orthodox (or Roman Catholic for that matter). Both use private judgement but there are two key differences.

        1) For the Protestant (I was one: Lutheran-Presbyterian-Ref. Baptist-Presbyterian), he is reading the Scripture and asking the question, “Which denomination’s teachings most line up with my current understanding of the Scriptures?” Thus maintaining interpretive authority over the Scriptures. The Protestant who becomes Orthodox is asking the quite different question(s), “where/what is THE CHURCH?” Did you catch the difference between the two questions? And of course when one examines what the Church Fathers wrote about The Church and sees that they manifestly did not have anywhere near a Protestant ecclesiology, thus leading to the whole doctrinal novelty issue and well, you get the picture. I won’t waste either of our time going down that rabbit trail (as I doubt it will be convincing to you–not that anything I say will be convincing to you). Suffice it to say I am not a Presbyterian for the same reason I’m not a Mormon.

        2) Once the Protestant becomes Orthodox, he actually gives up interpretive authority over the Scriptures. So, the questions are different and once you arrive at the answer, the results are different. Trust me, the practical differences are life changing–just ask my family.

        Again, I’m sure you’re not convinced by my silly ol’ answers and there are plenty of more scholarly versions of the above written by men far more holy and erudite then me.

        —-” I have publicly espoused documents out of the first six ecumenical councils and other church courts in Scotland. What argument you are trying to make escapes me.”

        I don’t know what that means. Sorry. And why you would think I care about the theologizing of some Scottish Protestants in the 16th and 17th centuries is really beyond me. As far as my argument being unclear, I certainly apologize.

        —-“BS. The reason you became orthodox is precisely because you didn’t crucify your hermeneutical authority. I have a question for you, how would you convince someone in the Romanist Church to disavow the Roman Church’s hermeneutical authority, and accept the Eastern Orthodox Church’s hermeneutical authority?”

        To the first sentence, try to be a little nicer Drake, it won’t kill you. As for the second sentence, see above. As for the question, I would simply ask them which ecclesial body departed from the faith? You’re an anti-filioquist (though I don’t know why since no Protestant tradition claims Nicene trinitarianism), you should know the answer to that. If you are trying to get me to “admit” that private judgement is necessary, no problem–it is. But like I said, that isn’t the issue and frankly it’s a red herring.

        Have a good day Drake. I have been looking through some of your articles on your blog. Why don’t you write a book? Did you write that Kentucky secession petition? Good on you friend if you did. Seriously.

      • I think what Drake meant by the Scotland reference, is that many Scottish divines did anticipate a lot of Orthodox objections and/or Ortho criqiues of various positions. heck, Charles Hodge gave a penetrating critique of Absolute Divine Simplicity (though what he proposed as an alternative, similar to how Orthos deal with the doctrine today, is rather vague).

        As to the anti-Filiioquist, Perry used to accuse Protestants of holding to the Filiqoue, even though it was papal and had no Scriptural support. (The implication being Protestants should reject the Filioque). Well and good. yet I fear that when we reject the Filiqoue we are accused of “picking and choosing.”

      • DCF:

        If I may…

        The canon births the church, not vice versa. This is our answer to your questions about the relatonship between the church and Scripture:

        “Canon, as you likely know, refers to that which we receive as inspired of God and thus as infallible and inerrant. In the OPC, we believe that there are thirty-nine books in the Old Testament that evince inspiration and twenty-seven in the New. While there are a myriad of issues that could be discussed relevant to the canon question, what’s particularly important to remember is that the church does not create the canon; rather, the canon creates the church. The church is what it is because of what the Bible says and not the reverse. The church, as the covenant people of God, receive and recognize the canon; the church does not create the canon.”

        http://opc.org/qa.html?question_id=472

        And as I continued reading, DCF, I noted you were once a “protestant.” Did you ever accept the label, “reformed?” I’ve been analyzing the writings of people in this blogospheric realm (on many other blogs than Jacob’s, here.). what intrigues me is that one, such as yourself, who claims was once a “protestant,” then comes and posts on the blog of a man (Jacob) who is openly PCA. May I ask what your motives are? I, for one, have not yet posted on Perry or Called to Communion blog. But I have posted on Green Baggins and Drake’s. Sure, there’s a little bit of dialogue that should take place between, for example, and EO and a Reformed person, such as Drake. But to me, I continue to think the former protestants are more like regretful ex-girlfriends when you come back to “reformed territory.” I mean, seriously, you are welcome in our realm. But when you post what you do, it seems silly. Don’t drop the Mormon card. Dude, dirty pool man. Dirty pool.

        Hang around all you want. Just realize, we read what you write. And shed a tear. Unless you are thinking of coming back to being “reformed?” Our contention, likely, is that you really never know what “reformed” or “protestant” meant. So we question your credentials as a “former protestant.” At least I do, as I have read Stellman, Bryan Cross, and others. It seems almost too obvious that they never really were “one of us.” That’s fine. One’s salvation does not hinge on which denomination one holds to. Rather, it’s the work of Christ (active obedience – I have some Machen things I want to send you if you are interested).

        My advice though, try to read and not post. Those of us reading, yes, don’t really buy your arguments. But keep trying if you must 😉

        Peace.

        Regards,
        Andrew

      • PS DCF:

        I mean, as for this:

        “Lutheran-Presbyterian-Ref. Baptist-Presbyterian”

        Do you happen to blog? I really could use your help on your label of yourself here. I’m not trying to be mean. Just, you really need to explain what on earth you are saying when you label yourself as such. Consider me an ignorant inquirer. I, for one, have not heard of the Lutheran-Presbyterian-Ref. Baptist-Presbyterian denomination before. Does that denomination hold to the WCF?

        The only other qeustion, if you don’t blog, do you golf? If so, and you are in the area, we have more to talk about. Golf is too much fun to not bring up in this type of public venue.

        Until next time,
        Andrew

  2. 1. Per first paragraph. I realize there is a disjunct, but worldviews and philosophical paradigms do play a major influence. The writings of the Cappadocians and Maximus are tinged with Origenism, minus the heretical parts. Neo-Platonaism was the dominent worldview,, for better or worse.

    2. “Are you suggesting that the Orthodox vis a vis the Calvinists are the ones who over-intellectualize the Christian life?”

    No, I am talking about Energetic Procession blog.

    3. “When really smart people, especially philisophically minded ones, start philosophizing themselves right out of the Christian faith, what are they doing? Here is what I think they’re doing: they’re being cowardly”

    I..guess so. I don’t know people’s psychological make up.

    Yes, it appears I accept the EO view on Trinity but not on x, y, and z., (I actually, I accept Bulgakov’s narrative that both views are flawed). That’s because I can’t accept something to be true which I believe to be false. It might be pick and choose, but at the end of the day, so be it. Most moral reasoning for the past 1500 years acknowledged that believing something to be true which you also believe to be false is a sin.

  3. olivianus says:

    Cyril,

    What is the deal with the end of the article? BTW, I commented on the Orth-Ref-Bridge blog and Robert deleted it even though I kept the comment under 500 words.

  4. *whoops, should have replied to drake, on the above. I still am a little lost in this blogospheric world :-p

    But it’s fun to chat…

    Peace.

  5. DCF:

    I can appreciate much of what you say, and your demeanor. Nice to “meet” you.

    A thought:

    “I have never seen a protestant anti-Orthodox argument not be reducible to this fact: I retain ultimate Scriptural interpretive authority.”

    So, what I read in Jacob’s post and your comment, is that there are things of value (over and against reformed thought) in Eastern Orthodox. The trinity, for example, is mentioned, I think in Jacob’s (or maybe it was yours) prose.

    My question to you would be, why is the interpretation of Scripture, a PROPER interpretation of Scripture, meant to made out as some kind of “boogey man.” I might argue that the proper interpretation of Scripture is not just the argument in base form against EO claims, but against Romanist or any other form which concerned churchmen would consider unorthodox.

    I guess what I am saying is, let’s say that every anti-anything argument is reducible to an individual church’s (or denominations) concern that an outside body is not adhering to Scripture correctly. That actually should be the ONLY reason for theological argument.

    I am saying that you have proved the “protestant’s” point. Because you are saying there is another plumb line outside of Scripture. I think a “protestant” would say, “ok, so you have an argument against said protestant that is not based on Scriptural authority – please tell me my error.”

    Maybe you think it’s that the “protestant” (or an individual protestant church) is setting itself up as an authority, because of it’s claim to be the one sole means of understanding proper interpretation.

    Well, that’s fine. I think the Protestant’s ultimate faith is not in his/her (or his/her’s church’s) interpretation, but in God alone. Luther stood against the doctrine of Papal infallibility, with clear conscience. It took bravery. We stand in his heritage. We can’t do but otherwise.

    Peace.

    • DCF says:

      —“Maybe you think it’s that the “protestant” (or an individual protestant church) is setting itself up as an authority, because of it’s claim to be the one sole means of understanding proper interpretation.”

      Yes, that is correct. Humor me: I have a Protestant friend who is a flaming Calvinist and a baptist. Yet, because of this and that and the other reason(s), he has no desire to go to a baptist church. Rather, he attends an extremely conservative OPC Church. But, being a baptist, he refuses to have his children baptized. When his OPC elders have approached him, they have mentioned that according to the WCF, et. al., he is being disobedient to God by not baptizing his children. Yet, he still won’t have the kids baptized. Now, what is going on here? St. Paul says in Hebrews 13 that we ought to obey our elders, right? What qualifications are there to this command? Did St Paul mean, “Obey your elders insofar as their teaching or commands line up with your private understanding of whatever the issue is in question? That seems to be what my friend is doing, no? The irony in my friend’s situation is that he believes in sola scriptura. And yet because of his interpretation of what the NT teaching is on baptism, he refuses to obey the Scripture and obey his elders.

      —“We stand in his heritage. We can’t do but otherwise.”

      Well, in terms of sola scriptura and conscience yes, but not in terms of much else, right? Why Westminster and not Augsburg anyway? Is there a way to answer that without appealing to your interpretation of certain verses? If not, wherein lies the authority?

      Andrew–you’re a golfer, yes? I am a bit of a duffer myself. Shot an 80 the other day. I used to play at my junior college back in 2001-2002. Ping irons, Mizuno woods, Cameron putter. You?

      —————————————————–

      CL, fair enough to your reply to my earlier reply to Drake. I figured I misunderstood him. Yes, it seems we are trying to put you in a darned if you do darned if you don’t dilemma.

      • Well, DCF, if shooting an 80 is considered a duffer, than I am truly lost in the weeds, and don’t yet have the abilities to really claim the label “golfer.” In truth, my latest venture of the last 4 days is becoming a “runner.” With three kids under the age of 6, it seems, running more fits with my lifestyle. Ping G2 irons I got of ebat for a nice deal on ebay, and I really like them! My taylormade burner superfast 2.0 and Nike Sumo2 fairway wood keep me jolly while I do spreadsheet work as an accountant, day in and day out. My putter is a peice of junk.

        Your friend is quite confused. I am not in a position of authority. I was ordained as a deacon in my OPC church in San Jose, CA, but had to leave that church, and am currently inactive, but am still ordained. So I am not active in engagement of deaconal matters, but I am working to get back to that place.

        Your friend needs to listen to his elders. There would come a time when such a person would undergo discipline. Thats for the elders to decide when that time will come. Yes, the Baptism question is important. But I am not an authority.

        My children beckon, I hope i have not offended. If you are near the SF Bay area, let’s golf for sure. But I don’t want to bring your game down.

        Until then, I’m working on running faster than a 9 minute mile. Baby steps…

        Peace.

      • DCF:

        I need to say something here as well:

        “Why Westminster and not Augsburg anyway? Is there a way to answer that without appealing to your interpretation of certain verses? If not, wherein lies the authority?”

        May I ask, how well do you know your WCF? For me, being raised in a Charles Finney inspired (meaning revivalist), dispensational, pre-trib, pre-mil, pre everything church, where if I would just do that altar OVER AND OVER AND OVER again, to then find the OPC with a WCF printed in the back of the hymnal, where things were actually making sense (and I started to think – boy – I thought people like me, who took this seriously, didn’t exist – AND I WAS WRONG, ALL RIGHT), was truly eye opening and watershed.

        Now, do I have some sort of emotional / personal / experiential “relationship” with the Westminster confession, and the men who met for 3 years, who are behind that document? Well, the more I read the puritans, the more my heart is singing at what I find.

        So it’s all inter-connected, DCF. I’m actually a little offended by your Mormon comment, so I’m not sure there’s much we can talk about. Offended is harsh, my feelings are OK, but to compare Presbyterianisn and Mormonism is, in my mind, revealing of a very very deep lack of understanding of what we as Presbyterians hold.

        No offense to the mormon readers, but I have plenty of good writings that distill down what’s going on in that quandrant of the religious world.

        Don’t believe me? Just browse around opc.org, or use the search field.

        I am glad you are happy where you are at, DCF. Someday, let’s golf, and we’ll be able to joke about these little tussles on Jacob’s blog here, whilst we sip some nice Coors light at the 19th hole. Trust me – there is a way forward on all of this. And I am still of the mind that golf fits into that “way forward” somehow.

        Peace, brother.

  6. *we can’t do otherwise…

    I should stick to the golf course and stay away from blogs 😉

    • DCF says:

      Fair enough Andrew. Also, I was not comparing Mormonism and Presbyterianism in the way you probably think I am. I know quite well the differences–and they are real and significant. Not my intention to offend and since I did, I sincerely apologize. If you’re ever in western NC, we’ll go play. Jacob, if you have Andrew’s email address please email it to me when you get a chance. Thank you.

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