Responding to Orthodox Bridge, Part One

A few years ago the admin at Orthodox Bridge wrote a piece against Calvinism titled “Plucking the Tulip.”   I decided to respond to it.  This will be both an easy and hard endeavor.  It will be hard in the sense that it is time-consuming (I think the essay is about 20 pages).  It will be easy because the author offers almost no arguments whatsoever.  We’ll begin

Clarifying our Terms

The title of our paper begins our problems.  Arakaki identifies Calvinism with TULIP with Predestination.  In doing so he is operating off of the severely challenged “Calvin vs. the Calvinists” Paradigm.  This paradigm states in its various forms that Reformed theology is a decretal theology centered around the doctrine of Predestination.  The work of Richard A Muller has effectively buried this thesis (Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics, vo. 1, Christ and the Decree).

Is there an official Reformed position?

Arakaki appears to go back and forth on this point.  He begins by saying, “The Canons of Dort represent the Dutch Reformed Church’s affirmation of predestination in the face of the Remonstrant movement” (1).  While he is correct in that the Canons of Dordt is an official document of Continental Reformed Churches, he is woefully in error in identifying predestination as the defining feature of Reformed theology.  However, in a footnote he says, “Unlike Lutheranism with its Formula of Concord, the Reformed tradition has no confessional statement with a similar normative stature (Pelikan 1984:236).”  I was stunned when I read this.  Does he not realize that the 3 Forms of Unity are ecclesiastically binding upon Dutch and German Reformed Churches?   He says above that the Canons of Dort represent the Church’s teaching.  Did he forget that he just said that?  Does he not realize that the Westminster Standards not only are binding upon Anglo-American Reformed Churches, but when interpreted in the light of the Solemn League and Covenant, are binding upon the kingdoms of England, Ireland, and Scotland?  If he cannot get these most basic points established, what hope does the reader have that he will be able to seriously represent the intricacies of Reformed Theology?  I noted throughout this paper that he has an over-reliance on Pelikan.

Total Depravity

In one sense my rebuttal is already complete.  Arakaki thinks that the Reformed faith is predestination is TULIP.  By rebutting him along these lines I give credence to his flawed analysis, such that it is.  I suppose it can’t be helped.  He notes,

The Scots Confession took the extreme position that the Fall eradicated the divine image from human nature: “By this transgression, generally known as original sin, the image of God was utterly defaced in man, and he and his children became by nature hostile to God, slaves to Satan, and servants to sin.” (The Book of Confession 3.03; italics added)

I have two problems with this.   First, why is he quoting the Scots Confession instead of the Westminster Confession, since the latter is officially binding?  Second, he thinks that defaced = eradicated.  It does not.  It means “marred.”  Further, he gives no extended discussion from more thorough Reformed sources.   I will.  Charles Hodge, in glossing original sin and nature, writes, “Although original sin corrupts our whole nature, yet the essence or substance of the soul is one thing, and original sin another…Original sin is said to be an accidens quod non per se subsistit, sed in aliqua substantia est, et ab ea discerni potest (II: 229, 230, quoting the Formula of Concord).   The following page is a more or less accurate summary of what Calvin and others believed on the Fall of man.  He notes,

Another reading of Genesis can be found in Irenaeus of Lyons, widely regarded as the leading Church Father of the second century. Irenaeus believed Adam and Eve were not created as fully mature beings, but as infants or children who would grow into perfection (Against the Heretics 4.38.1-2; ANF Vol. I,p. 521)
One may legitimately ask, though, why Irenaeus’ reading is to be preferred to Augustine’s?  Irenaeus doesn’t offer anything resembling a logical argument, nor does Arakaki.  There is nothing here for me to rebut because there is no logical argument. Arakaki continues,
One of the key aspects of the doctrine of total depravity is the belief that the Fall deprived humanity of any capacity for free will rendering them incapable of desiring to do good or to believe in God.
Yet this is not what the Reformed believe.  We believe in liberum arbitrium, free choice, which is a more accurate rendering than “free will.”  As Richard Muller notes, “[T]he faculty of will (voluntas) is free and that the bondage into which humanity has fallen is not a bondage of the faculty of will as such” (Muller 1995, 176).  What has been lost, or rather limited, is the freedom of choice particularly to salvation.  Further, Will is distinct from intellect (intellectus) [330].  The intellect is that which knows objects, and the will is that which has a desire for them.  The next page in Arakaki’s paper is a litany of quotes from the Church fathers on free will.  Since I have already demonstrated the Reformed position on free will, and that Arakaki’s charges miss it, I see no point in responding to these patristic citations.
Arakaki continues,
Thus, Calvin’s belief in total depravity was based upon a narrow theological perspective. His failure to draw upon the patristic consensus and his almost exclusive reliance on Augustine resulted in a soteriology peculiar to Protestantism
I couldn’t help but chuckle at this since Orthodoxy has its own narrowness.  Lossky, anybody?  Arakaki mentions the “patristic consensus.”  This will figure later into his argument on Scripture, but I will cut it off at the ford.   The Eastern Orthodox have yet to give a coherent, non-circular definition of the patristic consensus. In any case, the most devastating analysis of the so-called patristic consensus can be seen here.
This will end the first part of my rebuttal.  I think I have demonstrated that the author has not read the Reformed sources, does not show an adequate understanding of official Reformed documents, and offers little in way of an actual analysis and critique.

26 comments on “Responding to Orthodox Bridge, Part One

  1. Great post. I never see anybody in the Reformed tradition engaging with E. Orthodoxy. They’re too busy fighting the same 16th century battles instead of understanding the flank attack coming at the tradition from the East.

    • I hope one day to write a book or small monograph on EO. I spent four years really reading and studying the system. Iw as frustrated because most Reformed critiques of EO are painfully bad.

      • That would be super helpful. I have yet to see anybody engage their specific criticisms of Sola Scriptura, which are different than those of Roman Catholicism.

  2. olivianus says:

    Appealing to a Messianic Hebrew…..interesting.

  3. I wanted to write the book this summer, but that wasn’t feasible. I hope to have it mostly done in about two years.

  4. stewardman says:

    It should seem clear to any reader without an ax to grind should see Mr. Arakaki’s article is clearly premised not only upon Calvin, but several of the Reformed Confessional Standards..that he’s read and quoted accurately. In contrast, Mr. Aitken here seeks a novel refutation (at least per a Reformed perspective) from a few quotes from one modern reformed scholar. This seems all too much like how modern constitutional scholars “refute” what a host of colonial scholars demonstrate that the original constitutional writers themselves understood what the constitution means! lol Of course, the Reformed are often if not ultimately reduced to argumentation that is ahistorical per the Church Fathers, yet devolves into logical reasoning. Here we have one premised upon one modern reformed scholar…is clearly contrary to his own historic Reformed confessional documents. One can’t help but feel saddend to see what the free choice (predestined decision?) Mr. Aitken’s rejection of Orthodox has now led him to embrace.

    But allow me to offer my on logical syllogism for your consideration:

    (1) Christ faithfully kept His promised to send the Holy Spirit to teach His apostles all truth. (Jn 14 & 16)

    (2) Christ made good on faithfully fulfilling His promise on the Day of Pentecost — Holy Spirit coming and leading the Apostolic Church into all truth.

    (3) The Holy Spirit preserved what He taught the Apostles by their delivering over to their disciples (The Church) Holy Tradition the Apostles taught and preserved in the Orthodox Church.

    • And I agree that RA’s response was irenic and he did quote Calvin accurately. He did not demonstrate as thorough a knowledge of secondary Reformed sources and confessions.

      My use of Richard Muller is simply to rebut RA’s argument that predestination is the central tenet of the Reformed faith. That is true for Reformed Baptists, I suppose, but not for classic Reformed. Is my view novel? I don’t think it is but that by itself does not refute my view.

      As to your final section:

      1) I don’t see who would disagree with that. The Reformed do not teach a total apostasy of the church.
      2) My difference is that I don’t read the phrase “leading into all truth” as having arrived at all truth. If the EO wants to gloss that it does, then I will ask where Gregory Palamas’ energies distinction is in the early church.
      3) That begs the question.

    • Footnote: One cannot simply dismiss Richard Muller’s work. He is the world’s leading expert of post-Reformation orthodoxy. Even his critics (e.g., Bruce McCormack) concede the point. Others, who followed RA’s line of argumentation (such that it was) like David Steinmetz have publicly retracted their work. In the past 30 years no serious scholar would dare offer the “predestination as central tenet” idea without serious qualification.

    • This one is more reasoned. Part of my earlier critique is that he never actually offered an “argument” (premises, conclusion, etc). He just quoted fathers and assumed that was the end of it.

  5. gormay says:

    So let me get this straight, according to Richard Muller a person can desire salvation yet be unable to choose it? That makes sense to you? I have never heard any Calvinist make this claim. How can a person will salvation if the Spirit of God is not first at work w/in them? It is true that I can will something that I cannot choose to do like flying. But that’s not how salvation “works”. What, in Protestent circles and Reformed included, God looks for is our will be directed towards Him. There is no action involved. W/ salvation to will IS to choose.

    Perhaps you are right about Calvinists beliefs but this response smacks of the all too common “ just don’t understand Reformed beliefs”. I have found this statement comes from Calvinist’s own reaction to what they believe being thrown back in their face as it were. Many Calvinists don’t seem to be able to stomach their own beliefs.

    As far as quoting the Fathers, I would imagine Robert Arakaki was merely demonstrating how the early Church was of one voice on this issue showing that it is Calvinism that is the aberrant belief system.

    • I don’t think Muller would say that a person can desire salvation. Being a Thomist, Muller would say a person will desire what he thinks the good is. You are also conflating regeneration and salvation. They are not synonymous.

      “ just don’t understand Reformed beliefs”

      I understand it might come across that way, that is why I was at pains to say, “Yes, we believe in predestination.” My contention with Arakaki was that I dispute that predestination = Reformed. He tried to gloss it that waay.

      As far as quoting the Fathers, I would imagine Robert Arakaki was merely demonstrating how the early Church was of one voice on this issue showing that it is Calvinism that is the aberrant belief system.

      And in one sense he would be correct that the three fathers he quoted probably weren’t Calvinist. My response was along the lines that his use of the patrum consensus as a means of determining the faith utterly fails.

  6. stewardman says:

    So, Arakaki/Orthodox must not “dismiss Muller” (for Calvin, Westminster, Dort, Heildeberg to grasp Reformed theology)…yet you can dismiss Ireneaus with a wave & no argument? (Is that rich or just ironic? LOL) But please do tell us why you dismiss Ireneaus and the Patristic consensus of Adam’s Fall…to prefer Augustine’s view scarcely any of the early Father embraced — but many repudiated? Nor have you answered Robins arguments per free will?

    Yet I doubt delving into the logic/exegetical minutia of reformed scholastic will be terribly fruitful. The Theological forest (Fullness of the faith) gets lost in the obfuscating trees.

    Rather, the primia fasci credibility & exegetical logic behind Holy Tradition and the continuing presence of the Holy Spirit IN the Church…usually attracts serious Protestant readers. At the end of the day, there is really has no credible rebuttal to Christ’s promise…faithful fulfillment…and the Holy Spirit’s continued presence in the historic Church…to the end of the Ages. Otherwise, we’d have no Creeds, Bible, Christology and liturgica/sacramental praxis in history…

    • I didn’t dismiss Irenaeus. I just simply noted he didn’t offer an argument. Here merely asserted his conclusion. And I see no reason to prefer Irenaeus’s reading to Augustine’s, who actually does offer exegesis and arguments. When Irenaeus said Jesus was 50 years old, can I dismiss that?

      • Canadian says:

        And I suspect you do not prefer Augustine’s rejection of sola fide with exegesis and arguments.
        For some reason he gets a free pass all the time among the Reformed in spite of this.

      • Canadian says:

        Comments are off on your new entry on Augustine.
        My point is this, it seems disingenuous for the bulk of the Reformed to hold Augustine so highly when he denies sola fide. The same generosity is ADAMANTLY refused to anyone today who would hold the same or a similar position as Augustine. Today, for most Reformed, the gospel IS: fornesic justification-sola fide-by imputed righteousness-extra nos-by the decree-for the elect alone.
        Why do they not give the same wink and nudge to folks today?
        And please, I prefer not to hear the banal standard line “well, Justification wasn’t on the table yet as it was in the Reformation, now people know and are accountable.” Augustine explicitly mentions faith being alone and rejects such is salvific.

      • Fr. John W. Morris says:

        For one thing Irenaeus was a student of St. Polycarp who was a student of the Apostle John. For another Irenaeus could read the Biblical texts in the original Greek. Augustine lived almost 300 years later and had no connection with the Apostolic Church. Augustine also could not read Greek and developed his theology on the basis of an error filled Latin translation. There is indeed a consensus of the Fathers in favor of free will. Augustine was out of step with the Fathers of the Church and was successfully rebutted by St. John Cassain. Every study of Patristrics agrees that the consensus of the Fathers was in favor of free will and that it was Ausustine who rejected the consensus of the Fathers of the Church.

      • I am aware of all of that. Simply saying that person x studied under person y who studied under an apostle doesn’t mean that his assertion (note, not an argument) is correct. I spent two years reading Irenaeus and his leading commentators.

        As to Augustine: I know he didn’t know Greek, and that’s what makes reading him frustrating at times (I nearly threw City of God against the wall!). Still, most of his argument stands. In any case, the only point where his argument fails is in saying that we (actively) sinned in Adam. Reformed theology as a general rule doesn’t say that, nor does it have to given what we believe about Covenantal representation.

        As to free will: I have already glossed what I do and don’t mean by free will. Arakaki didn’t really interact with it so I see no reason to keep saying what I have been saying.

  7. stewardman says:

    Of course. No less than dismissing Augustine’s here: “Prostitution in towns is like the sewer in a palace; take away the sewers, and the palace becomes an impure and stinking place.”

    But if Irenaeus’ view faithfully reflects what the Fathers believed about Adam/Man after the Fall …might not many believe the fact itself an argument? There are different kinds of arguments, no? Are you going to argue that Irenaeus’ view does not reflect what the Fathers overwhelmingly believed…or that the early Fathers actually embraced a Total Depravity/Inability view like Augustine/Calvin…upon which double-predestination “logically” rests? Own your theology of choice here brother Jacob…don’t weasel or obfuscate it, or history either. 🙂

  8. Canadian wrote:

    *And I suspect you do not prefer Augustine’s rejection of sola fide with exegesis and arguments.
    For some reason he gets a free pass all the time among the Reformed in spite of this.**

    I am aware of Perry’s arguments on this point. I know Augustine didn’t espouse sola fide ala Luther. And if we are all honest, no one believes everything every father (whatever that word means) said.

    Steward wrote,

    **But if Irenaeus’ view faithfully reflects what the Fathers believed about Adam/Man after the Fall …might not many believe the fact itself an argument?**

    I have already demonstrated that any appeal to a patrum consensus is problematic when we get to the universal claim “what *the* fathers believed. Secondly, it wouldn’t actually logically establish anything, since its premises aren’t really normative.

    **There are different kinds of arguments, no? **

    I don’t know what you mean by different kinds of arguments? Propositions either have truth-value, or they don’t. A collection of propositions properly ordered constitutes a good argument.

    2. Irenaeus’ view reflects what some Eastern fathers believed. The gloss “fathers” begs the question by excluding most any Western father.

    ***or that the early Fathers actually embraced a Total Depravity/Inability view like Augustine/Calvin…upon which double-predestination “logically” rests?***

    This claim is problematic to address on a number of points. Every father and theologian before Spinoza believed that God was a necessary being, thus making creation contingent, which implies a contingency of will. Your question assumes a logical a priori of certain dogmas, but I don’t accept the logical ordering (at least not at that point in the ordo). Addressing your own claim, I don’t think predestination logically rests on total depravity. (at least I wouldn’t begin my theology with total depravity and deduce predestination from it. I don’t know of any source that actually goes about in such a crass manner).

    ***Own your theology of choice here brother Jacob…don’t weasel or obfuscate it, or history either*****

    I am not entirely sure what you mean by that. I have demonstrated on this blog from dozens of Protestant Scholastic sources what the Reformed have always meant by contingency. I am not saying anything that isn’t found in Turretin.

  9. stewardman says:

    from another brother…i thought well said and salient

    “…notable about Aitken’s article is what he admits are the “intricacies of Reformed theology.” Look up “intricate” in any dictionary and it will give you definitions like “hard to follow,” “puzzling,” “overly detailed,” etc. The Latin root of the word means “tricky.” As a seminarian from a Reformed institution, I can attest first hand that Reformed theology is mind-boggling complex compared to Orthodoxy. One of the things that appealed to me when I converted to becoming Orthodox, is that the theology is relatively straight forward. Occam’s Razor might be another epistemologically valid reason to consider the claims of the Orthodox Church.”

    • Are intricacies a bad thing? Surely Maximus’ teaching about the will being a mode of a mode, not to mention the painstakingly nuanced definitions of ousia and motion.

  10. I’ve already addressed those points pace Augustine. I’ve closed comments for the moment because I do not have time to get distracted on other stuff. I’ll open them in the future.

  11. **** As a seminarian from a Reformed institution, I can attest first hand that Reformed theology is mind-boggling complex compared to Orthodoxy. ***

    Is Maximus the Confessor’s distinctions between a human will, divine will, and gnomic mode of will any less complex?

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